Former SHU Professor Dr. John Kikoski Presents Talk for Alumni

News Story: May 1, 2010
Dr. John Kikoski

Affectionately known as “Dr. K,” former professor of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, John Kikoski, Ph.D., delivered an address last month at the William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center to several generations of graduates.  Dr. Kikoski retired from Sacred Heart in 2008, however, his rich legacy as a professor and mentor to scores of students lives on.

The event, sponsored by the Department of Alumni Relations, also marked the inaugural Dr. John Kikoski Scholarship, which was awarded to two students, Heather Falsetti and Whitney Wildman.

Several members of the faculty from the Department of Government and Politics were in attendance including Chairman Gary Rose, Ph.D, Lesley DeNardis, Ph.D., and Alka Jauhari, Ph.D.  Dr. Rose noted that the Department of Government and Politics has grown leaps and bounds over the last several years, and now has about 100 declared full-time majors, nearly doubling in recent years. "I hope this event begins an alumni tradition," said Dr. Rose.

"Tonight is the first time I've ever been on time to a class," Dr. Kikoski quipped with a smile, acknowledging his tendency to run a few minutes behind the start of class. "I always tried to be on time, but there always was too much to do in a day."
True to Dr. Kikoski's form, he began his lecture by writing two quotes on a whiteboard for the audience to ponder, and immediately reminded the crowd to “TFY” – “Think for yourself,” something he always urged his students to do.

Then he asked, "If we Americans are so rich, then why are we so unhappy? Studies indicate that people in Haiti and Egypt are happier than we are, and they have nothing and we have everything. Gratitude and humility are the key to everything, while hubris is the key to nothing," the wise Dr. Kikoski said. "So the question -- what does the conceited man of hubris need to learn? He needs to learn nothing because he already knows everything. And what does the man of humility need to learn? Everything, because he knows nothing."

Dr. Kikoski said that to think by one ideology or subscribe to one kind thought is akin to cheating yourself out of knowledge. "We become prisoners in our minds that way," he said. "As a country, we tend to think in groups. In the North, we think too much as liberals, and in the South, we think too much as conservatives. Businessmen tend to think as conservatives, and academics as liberals. I am also convinced that ‘group think’ or  group ‘conventional’ thinking played a role getting us into the financial mess we're in."

Dr. Kikoski underscored the importance of embracing different points of view by telling the story of Mohamed El-Erian, CEO and Co-CIO of PIMCO, the world's largest bond investor. Reading aloud from an article in which El-Erian had been interviewed, Dr. Kikoski related how as a youngster El-Erian's family lived in Paris where his father was Egypt's ambassador to France.  Each day, his father read four newspapers covering the spectrum of political ideologies – from Le Figaro on the right to L'Humanité, the newspaper of the Communist Party on the left – which puzzled young El-Erian.
"I remember asking my father, ‘Why do you need to read four newspapers a day?’ He responded ‘Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you'll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you'll never question,’" read Dr. Kikoski. "Read widely, read wisely, particularly in this era of high-velocity change," he told the captivated audience.

Dr. Kikoski dispensed more wisdom, telling his former students that over the course of his life he's learned you can't plan everything. "But you can follow your heart, set your goals, and do something that you love. There wasn't a day that went by when I didn't wake up and not love what I was doing. I was excited each September as the new year began and to be here with you."

Dr. Kikoski also advised the audience to trust their instincts. "Instinct or intuition can be wrong, but it is more often right. There is a nerve that begins in the most primitive part of our brains that we share with reptiles, and it goes to our intestines, or ‘gut.’" Dr. Kikoski said that when he was younger, he dreamed of becoming a physician and planned to attend medical school. "One day, I pulled up in the university parking lot, got out of my car and -- instead of going to the organic chemistry lab -- went to the political science department and asked for an application. To this day, I don't know why I  did it but I had an epiphany. Trust your ‘gut.’ Do what you love. I once read a line that 'All truth is feeling,’ trust it," he said.

"Love what you do, love each other, no act of kindness goes unrewarded," he continued. "You can't be loved if you don't love." The reflective Dr. Kikoski said that a series of "awful things" had happened to him many years ago because of certain people, and he realized that if he didn't forgive them, they would continue to control him. "The only way to get rid of them was to forgive them and that leads to a much better life." Dr. Kikoski called on the audience to have faith in order to accomplish anything new or different. "Show me evidence that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who started Microsoft and Apple knew beforehand that they would become the giants that they are. The evidence isn't there. Those men had faith. If you want to accomplish anything in life, you have to have faith."

In his final thoughts, a tearful Dr. Kikoski told the crowd, "I pray for all of you every day, not by name but I pray for all of you and you will always be with me." And he concluded by advising his student audience, "Don't wait until you are age 65 (like I did) to enjoy good beer, good scotch, good wine and a good cigar," he said with a chuckle.