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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

Vivek Ramaswamy headlines 36th annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner

Ramaswamy spoke on United States ideologies, values and diversity-related challenges
Brynn Meisse
Vivek Ramaswamy on stage, talking to students and faculty at the 36th annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner.

Ashland, Ohio – Hope for the future revival of the United States. That is what Vivek Ramaswamy left in the minds of students on Wednesday night.

For the 36th annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner, the Ashbrook Center brought in 2024 Presidential Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy to headline the dinner. Ramaswamy discussed a variety of topics ranging from the recent ban of the social media app TikTok to the current issues that the citizens of the United States are facing.

“People are afraid, to say what they actually think,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. The only way that we are going to get this right, is by all of us starting to speak our minds.

“Just stand for truth without apology. To say the things that we know to be true.”

The event began at 7 p.m. in Ashland University’s Upper Convocation Center, where Ashbrook scholars, professors, staff and board members gathered for the night.

To begin, the dinner was opened with a prayer and the national anthem, before the opening award was given out. The Lifetime Achievement award was handed out by Ashbrook Center Board Chairman Marv J. Krinsky.

The recipient of the award, Fred A. Lennon, was a catalyst in establishing the Ashbrook Center in its early stages, with his recognition coming 40 years later.

“He was a great philanthropist who made an impact in meaningful ways,” Krinsky said. “Fred was deeply concerned about the education of young people and I believe that it would please him to know the great works we are doing.

“It is safe to say we [The Ashbrook Center] couldn’t have survived without his financial and spiritual support.”

Vivek talking on stage. (Brynn Meisse)

After the opening talking points concluded and the food was served, Dr. Jeffrey Sikkenga welcomed the long-awaited speaker, Ramaswamy, to the center podium.

“It was refreshing to hear from a man of a younger cloth,” said Ashbrook Program Alumni Ryan Ortner. “Someone who you could connect with, not thoroughly through politics, but a dream that the both of you share deep down.”

Ramaswamy opened by remarking about the university itself, speaking highly of the students who had met with him earlier in the day for a private question-and-answer session.

“I have to say, the smartest person in the room is going to be one of those students out there,” he said. “Earlier today, I got to sit down with these scholars and they grilled me.”

He then began to discuss the current climate in the nation, which sees protests around college campuses, individuals being lost in life and values people possess.

A major early talking point for the once-presidential candidate circulated the Palestinian protests.

“It is not that people are against the values that people in this room share,” he said. “I think it is that they are lost. They are hungry for purpose and direction.

“At a time in our history as a country, where the things that used to fill that void: faith in God, patriotism, the freedom of your country, hard work, family –these things have disappeared.”

As he continued on, those in attendance would occasionally break out into claps for Ramaswamy.

“Our Founding Fathers… tell us that these are the sacrifices we made, now tell about the sacrifices you made to keep it,” he said. “We better have a darn good answer. We need to hold ourselves to that standard.

“The inheritance we want to give our kids isn’t just a green piece of paper, we want to give our kids the country that is greater than the one we grew up in.”

Vivek on stage, with students and faculty looking on. (Brynn Meisse)

Some Ashbrook scholars noted some of the statements the 38-year-old made and were excited by the discussion points he brought up.

“The opportunity Ashbrook gives me to hear from political figures and leaders such as Vivek Ramaswany is an incredible privilege,” freshman Ashbrook Scholar Lauren Clos said. “Getting to hear from influential people and about their experiences is a great opportunity.

“Ashbrook has given me access to sit in on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.” 

As Ramaswamy began to wrap up his speech, he encouraged the audience to stand up for what they believed in.

“[We need to] say the things that we know to be true. That God is real, that there are two genders, that fossil fuels are a requirement for human prosperity, that reverse racism is racism and an open border is not a border.

“That parents should determine the education of their children… and that capitalism is not a dirty word that it is the best-known system known to man and is meant to lift us up from poverty.”

While some sat in silence after his remarks were made, others began to give a standing ovation.

“These things are controversial, not because they are false but because they are true and I like this is the moment we stand for truth,” he said.

As he closed his dinner speech, he concluded with a statement that the American Dream is not alive and well, but rather alive and hanging on to life support. However, he then went on to say that it can be.

“You will still get ahead in this country with your own hard work, your own commitment, your own dedication,” he said. “You are free to speak your mind at every step of the way. That is the American Dream, that is who we are and that is what we are running to.

“With your help, and with your sacrifice, that is what we will revive.”

Yet again, his words were met with affirmation from most of those in attendance.

After he was done, Dr. Sikkenga opened the floor to the audience to ask Ramaswamy questions. The next 25 minutes were spent answering scholars’ questions, with highlights on the newly pushed TikTok ban, changes in his beliefs throughout his candidacy, and a variety of other questions.

One question that he felt passionate about, came when asked about the current political divide in the nation.

“I think we are reaching a breaking point in this country, but not in the same way at a 50/50 divide,” he said. “Not if you are red or blue, or black or white, those are made-up names that we are taught to consume and swallow. We are far more united than you would see if you turned on cable television.

Vivek on stage. (Brynn Meisse)

“I learned that the national division is a myth. Most Americans have common sense… what we lack for is courage.”

As the question-and-answer segment concluded, he capped off his time on stage by briefly mentioning his favorite American individual in history, Thomas Jefferson. 

“His legacy reminds us that he was a fallen human being, just like any one of us in this room. The Founding Fathers, they were not Gods, yet they strived for certain ideals…

“We are founded on the pursuit of perfection, a pursuit of a more perfect union. The pursuit of liberty, equality and justice for all.”

When he was done, a standing ovation yet again ensued. Ramaswamy certainly turned heads, with other Ashbrook Scholars continuing to show their satisfaction with the dinner.

“It’s an incredible experience. I’ve been to two memorial dinners during my time in the Ashbrook program and both have been incredible,” said junior Ashbrook Scholar Connor Milne. “Having the opportunity to have Mr. Ramaswamy, a presidential candidate on campus, is something special.

“The Ashbrook program never fails to impress with the quality of speakers they are able to bring to Ashland. It’s a privilege and I am honored to be part of this truly special program.”

While some scholars agreed with his opinions, others who did not, still appreciated the opportunity presented.

Being an Ashbrook student and hearing from someone who ran for President of our country is an incredibly unique privilege,” said freshman Ashbrook Scholar Andrew Maxwell. “I enjoy that, even though I may not fully agree with each speaker I get a chance to meet, listen to, and interact with these speakers.

“They are simply motivated to come and speak to the younger generations on topics they’ll be growing into as they go through not only college but life.”

Now, former Ashbrook Chairman, Marv. Krinsky on stage at the 36th annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner. (Brynn Meisse)

As the night concluded, the Outstanding Ashbrook Scholar Alumni Award was given to James Turoff, while the Outstanding Teacher Award was handed out to Henry Adeoye. Each individual was met with praise from those in attendance.

However, when it seemed like the night was coming to a close, Dr. Sikkenga still had one more surprise up his sleeve.

He honored Chairman Krinsky, who was officially retiring from his position, with the honor of the Ashbrook Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His successor, Senator Mark Romanchuk, had kind words to say when he took the stage.

Marv, the board was only as successful as you made it my friend. Thank you, thank you for your service and thank you for your leadership,” said Romanchuk.

The night was capped off by thank you’s distributed from Krinsky in his final John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner as the chairman of the Ashbrook Center.

“Thank you for being here, God bless you and God bless the United States.”

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