| Going Supersonic
John F. McDonnell, former CEO of McDonnell Douglas, made this presentation at a Gala
Dinner kicking off a major fund raising drive for Washington University in St. Louis,
Missouri on September 19, 1998.
Thank you, Bill! And to all of you, Good Evening!
Whenever he finished a particularly rousing number, the great Jazz singer Al Jolson would
always turn to the audience and say, You aint heard nothin yet.
Without a doubt, the university has made remarkable progress over the
past few decades.
If I may use an aerospace analogy, Bill Danforth took Washington University from the era
of the piston engine into the jet age. Under his leadership, the university moved farther,
faster and higher than anyone could have expected. It became clearly established as one of
the top 25 universities in the land.
But no one would claim that we are, today, the equal of a Harvard, MIT
or Stanford in being the first choice of the best and brightest students and faculty
across a range of disciplines.
Now -- under Mark Wrightons leadership -- we are aiming for a great
one-time burst in acceleration . . . moving, as it were, from subsonic to the supersonic
Some of you may recall the difficulties that aircraft makers encountered
in trying to fly faster than the speed of sound. There seemed to be an invisible barrier
in the sky . . . preventing further progress. It took more than higher-power engines to
penetrate the barrier. It took a radical rethinking in the design and configuration of
And that is precisely the kind of thing that has been going on inside Washington
University through the Project 21 initiative. We have reexamined and redesigned every part
of this great university with a view toward establishing Washington University as one of
the worlds premier educational institutions within the next decade.
There is an invisible barrier that separates the magic circle of truly world-class
institutions of higher education from the merely excellent. But it is not an impenetrable
Though the Campaign for Washington University, we are getting ready to
crash through that barrier . . . and join the best of the best.
This is an opportunity to become a part of something really important --
and exciting -- for our students, for St. Louis, for the nation and the world.
I urge each of you to join us on one helluva flight.