Kent State alumnus talks about importance of liberal arts education

Lyndsey Sager

When Tom Edwards spoke to students Monday afternoon, one of his many pieces of advice was to stay away from old people.

“I use to think when people got old they would sit in a rocking chair and little kids would come up and ask for pearls of wisdom. They’d say, ‘Oh yes, do that,’ and ‘Let me tell you about the good old days,’ but they’re not,” Edwards said. “Old people today, they are cranky. They are hoarding. They are greedy … They are unbelievably bad role models.”

Edwards is a 1977 Kent State alumnus and CEO of A.J. Weller Corporation, a full-service international technology company. He greeted a small group of students and faculty Monday afternoon in Oscar Ritchie Hall to talk about the importance of a liberal arts background in the changing business environment.

“Mr. Edwards’ business philosophy emphasizes the importance of employee’s communication skills,” said associate marketing professor Lawrence Marks. “He feels that a good liberal arts education, which develops students’ written and verbal communication skills, is very important for success.”

Marks said that the skills students learn through liberal arts educations have a broad application, specifically in business careers.

“There are very few people I’ve experienced who, when they were eight years old, wanted to be a doctor,” Edwards said, “and they actually followed that narrow road and they became a doctor.”

But, Edwards said, those people who never change their minds on what they want to do generally end up being very boring because they never did anything else.

“They kind of get focused and that’s all they want to do,” Edwards said. “Thinking, ‘my dad was a doctor, my dad was a plumber.’ Whatever it was, they’ve got to follow that route, and it works for them.”

Another point Edwards made is there is too much negative speculation about the United States government.

“If you took this country right now, it’s kind of in vogue these days to all of the pundits,” Edwards said. “[They say] ‘we’re a third world, we’re going to be Greece tomorrow.’ I mean, it’s kind of a slogan where everyone’s got their own rendition … But I’m here to tell you, it’s not going to be that bad.”

Edwards said the current gross domestic product in the United States is still larger than the GDPs of China, Germany and Japan combined.

“So we’re getting a bit of a head start,” Edwards said. “We still have some more room to make some better decisions.”

He said that in other countries, such as Japan, people are willing to work 18 hours a day to get the jobs Americans think they deserve.

“But what do you do?” Edwards asked a member of the audience. “Go play video games?”

Edwards encouraged students to set a short-term goal, at the least, to improve dedication and personal study habits.

“But not because of the grades you get today,” Edwards said, “because you’re going to use that same discipline for the rest of your life.”

He also recommended students read two books: “Physics of the Future,” by Michio Kaku, which he said describes what could happen with the United States in the future, and “Great by Choice,” by Jim Collins, which he said is about successful companies that thrived in spite of an uncertain environment.

Contact Lyndsey Sager at [email protected].