“Culver is all about the little things,” Nelson Collet ’12 said at the recent Batten Scholars Weekend dinner. And life is about doing the little things to the best of your ability.
A former Batten Scholar, Collet went to Princeton University on an Army ROTC Scholarship. Graduating in 2016, he is now an investment banking analyst with Barclay’s in New York City and on active duty as an infantry officer with the New York Army National Guard.
The oldest of Culver’s merit scholarships, Frank ’45 and Jane Batten endowed the Batten Scholars Program in 1999. Each scholarship provides freshman and/or first-year sophomore students with full-tuition, room and board, required fees, uniforms, and books. The scholarship is renewable annually. It also includes a Global Pathways Spring experience in student’s junior year and a study abroad experience during the summer of their senior year.
Batten was a communications entrepreneur who made his mark in many ways. Under his leadership as a publisher, in 1960 The Virginian-Pilot newspaper received a Pulitzer Prize for articles championing desegregation. That paper and The Ledger-Star in Norfolk, Virginia, were the foundation of Landmark Communications, the privately-held media company that he grew by acquiring additional newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, as well as by founding a new cable station — The Weather Channel – the 24- hour cable weather station launched in 1982.
Collet told the 16 Batten finalists present that he was in the same position nine years ago, in the same room, surrounded by many of the same faces. He thanked the Batten family for their support and said there isn’t day that he doesn’t appreciate what the scholarship and Culver have done for him.
At Culver is where he learned the “little things” matter. How to shine shoes, wear the uniform correctly, how to march, and prepare your room for inspection may seem like useless mundane tasks. But learning to perfect the banal tasks is the first rule of followership. And, as each person learns their tasks, they are given more responsibilities. Soon those larger, more complex tasks involving many working parts become easier. Anyone who has been to a Sunday parade in the spring can see that, he said.
Culver taught me that character isn’t painted with broad brushstrokes . . .
It is similar to Army Ranger School, he explained. No one single task is that hard. But to be a good Ranger, a soldier must be relentless in perfecting the tedious and simplest tasks. And, he added, the good investment bankers pay attention to the smallest details.
“Small things matter,” Collet said. “To get anything right, you must learn the basics.”
Collet said former Head of Schools John Buxton said “Inspect what you expect, or you are bound to be disappointed.” The Culver system survives because everyone is held to such a rigorous standard.
Likewise, “Culver taught me that character isn’t painted with broad brushstrokes – it’s made up of tiny dots – little actions – which on the aggregate can display a person’s self,” he said. Emphasis on the small matters builds to something great. “Character takes practice, with the little exercises in holding yourself – and the ones you care about – to a high standard.”
Good character and judgment are traits that atrophy if not practiced, he said. Culver taught him to be true and honest with himself and others on the small, seemingly insignificant matters every day so he would be ready when the especially tough day arrives.
Collet said he didn’t want to sound too serious. “Culver was my home away from home, a place to grow up,” he said. “My defining memories are of laughter, breezy afternoons down by the lakeside, riveting sailboat races on Lake Max.
“I came to Culver a shy boy, unsure of myself and my place in the world. I left a young man, confident and just a little poised, serious about my passions but not too serious about myself.” He said. “And I distinctly remember – on a long run on the backroads behind Woodcraft Camp, sometime late in senior spring, the Indiana meadows and forests verdantly in bloom – I remember feeling wronged about having to leave a place I had fallen so deeply in love with.
“For that experience, I am forever grateful. I want to personally thank the teachers and colleagues that made my time here so meaningful.”
The 16 finalists applied for the six Batten Scholars available. The Battens are part of approximately 20 full merit scholarships being awarded this year. Each one is valued at more than $200,000. Close to 200 applicants have applied for the merit scholarship programs.