July 30, 2012

The first thing you should know is that although Carnegie University may be fictional, there are similarities between it and many other colleges around the world. It is no radical campus, and nothing out of the ordinary—that is, nothing incredible happens there, but amazing things still happen. This university, which has so much in common with others of its kind, is an American school, run by a fairly diverse board of directions, a dedicated Chairman, and led by a Dean who has certainly seen her fair share of amazing things. It is not unusual for her to be attracted to something new.

Carnegie University is a mid-sized campus; it's grown larger thanks to the generous endowment of its benefactor, for whom the founders bestowed its name (that is, old Andrew himself). Its student body consists of some ten or fifteen thousand, and even though it's a young school, it's already proven itself worthy of recognition—but events will occur in the immediate future that will put Carnegie on the map and make it a truly famous institution. It is because of these events that this story exists in the first place.

The Dean of this school is similar to a government official. A board of directors elected her, and she has the ability to empower or refuse certain rules, schedules, edicts, and things of that nature. In the near future, her decisions will directly determine the lives and livelihoods of several aspiring young women, and she will indirectly inspire many more. Her greatest opponent was the Chairman of the board, a man who directly reported to her while still carrying enough power to overrule her decisions. This man was the Dean's fierce political rival, and he was one of the few people, ironically, she trusted. To heed so carefully the words of one who always argued against her was truly an act of wisdom: she definitely kept her enemies close.

There is little to say about the faculty, which is fine considering the minor role most of them play: they do their job, some better than others. There is one eccentric among them who coaches a high school baseball team when he's not lecturing, and as unorthodox as he is (and a rather entertaining sight as well), he has led his team to victory and it's unlikely anyone will question his methods in the future. The students call him Professor or Coach, or simply Sir, and the faculty and heads of the school call him Mr. Warren (his family and close friends give him other names). He has seen many adventures before, and his experiences carry through in his oddball wisdom.

Carnegie University is surrounded by a small city, with a public transit system to help students get between their classes and their homes. The dormitories have been built with prudence in mind: students are usually housed based on the location of their classes, so there are no excuses for being late. There are a number of good restaurants, malls, and offices in the area to encourage an influx of activity and economy. There are also two hospitals (one just for the campus), four hotels, a museum, a handful of gas stations, garages, nightclubs, and a store for every conceivable desire, from books to movies to "erotic necessities". So on the whole, it's not very different from other schools.

It was nearly the beginning of a new autumn term. Summer was winding down and the beaches were being abandoned. Enrollment was spiking; the board of directors was congested with requests. Of course, those with the money were always welcome, but the real question was who to give a scholarship to, and who to turn down. It was never an easy decision; Carnegie was becoming popular and more people wanted to attend. The Dean anticipated most of these requests being funneled to her desk; the Chairman would no doubt scrutinize her every action. Andrew's original funding would see to it that many young minds were cultivated—and the Chairman would personally take care of the rest.

"The good news is that this year, we can be a bit more generous with our scholarships," he said, waving a thick folder in his hand. "We have so many people to thank for that. But it also seems the old adage is true: with more money come more problems. It's hard to believe, but some of the most gifted freshmen we'll receive don't have a dime to their names, and some of our richest students won't even be able to comprehend our beginner's courses. It's a dirty joke."

"I haven't been summoned to discuss ethics, Fitzgerald," said the Dean. They rarely agreed on anything but were always sure to be around one another, just in case. "You've obviously given some of these requests more thought than others, and you'd like my opinion. I suppose that folder you're carrying has those names you've favored." He grudgingly gave them up to her trained eyes. Chairman Fitzgerald didn't like the Dean, but he certainly trusted her: they were both fierce professionals. She looked through the list, approving of some, rejecting others. A lesser man would lose his head after seeing so many promising students being discarded like that, but Fitzgerald studied her silently until the end.

He sighed as he glanced at the pile. "That many?"

"You said so yourself," replied the Dean coolly: "only those who will appreciate our instructions ought to be admitted. Isn't that one of your core beliefs? Those who have wealth can have whatever they want; they don't need an education. It is the brilliant poor who need this aid. You said that once before…or muttered it under your breath."

"It's really more your style, Rosewood," he replied, in a manner she expected. She smiled.

"Perhaps we agree for once. In any case, I've put my sieve into effect and separated the applicants. May I ask why you considered those others?" He shrugged cynically.

"Let's not fool ourselves, Rosewood. Carnegie is not a charity, and if we're to have any real financial aid for these students, we'll have to bite our own tongues and accept these so-called purebreds. If they truly don't mind throwing around all that money, why stop them, I say. They'd be indirectly giving the real stars a boost anyway…and besides, what's a college campus without a little economic division?"

"Indeed," she sighed bitterly, wielding a sharp smile. "Well, I'll consider it as always, and it would be strange if we rejected someone who could afford to attend. What about the ones you passed over?"

"These?" he said, waving the remnant of the requests. It didn't escape Rosewood's eyes that this stack was considerably larger than the one she was holding now. Fitzgerald was really more ruthless than she was; he cast off more people than she could even count. He took in a deep breath and said, "You can look at them if you want to. It might be nice to have a…second opinion. Of course, in the end, the decision will come down to what the board of directors think."

"And what I say at the last moment," she countered.

"Or what I deem questionable," he retorted. They stared at each other sharply, perhaps for seconds, perhaps for days. Fitzgerald truly was Dean Rosewood's mightiest adversary, but she would rather lose an eye than see him retire. There was no way she'd ever recruit anyone that agreed with everything she said. It wouldn't be intelligent…

"Then I suppose we'll have to wait until that time," she whispered thickly.

"You mean, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it?"

"If that's what you want to call it."

The room became silent again, except for the tick of a clock and muffled sounds of bird's songs.

"Very well, we agree again. Maybe we shouldn't spend so much time together. It's beginning to affect us both."

"But you bring such good company with you." He bowed faintly and retrieved his belongings, leaving the scholarship requests behind.

"Good day, Rosewood. I'll see you at the meeting."

"Yes, good day."

No clear sign of autumn was yet in the air as Dean Rosewood strolled from her office into the meeting room for the board of directors. It was a fine, bright day, and campus was largely empty, though there were groundskeepers, instructors wandering around taking in the nice weather, a few first-time students touring the facility ahead of schedule, and various employees who stayed at Carnegie year round. This was not the kind of day to sit indoors in a dreary room, going over business prospects for this year and what expectations everyone had, but it was Rosewood's duty, and if she didn't see to it, she would pay heavily for it.

She noticed there were five other people in the room, so she wasn't early, and several more came in shortly after her, so she wasn't late either. It was Fitzgerald's duty to cross through the doors last and officially begin the meeting. There were a few snacks and drinks on a table, and polite chatter was already crossing the room. Rosewood kept her ears out of it and focused on her drink, and on what she was going to spring on these people. Carnegie finally had a surplus in its budget, and today's meeting would mostly focus on how to invest that money.

"Good morning, everyone," came Chairman Fitzgerald's voice as he stepped through the doors and closed them. He spotted the snacks, nodded with approval, and carried himself over there with the same everyday pride and dignity he always showed. Keeping the board entertained with delectables wasn't mandatory, but he did push for a healthier selection. Coffee and donuts were poor choices for an appetizer.

"Rosewood," he spoke to her as they sat down, "if you would go over today's agenda, please?"

"Yes. As you all know, this small university has been created and supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and in the time between our opening ceremonies and today, we've proven our academic prowess in spite of our obscurity. We have more students enrolling for this semester than in all the previous semesters combined, largely in part to the contributions this board has given, and to all our hard work. That being said, our first order of business is to determine which grants may be given to which students, and whom of the less fortunate we may still accept. I also believe our budget has a surplus, so we may finally add a new program to entice further students. Chairman Fitzgerald and I have extensively debated on the former subject, and while we have not reached an agreement, I do believe we can make a compromise." He smiled dimly and gestured.

"In the name of settling the matter and professionalism, let it be so." They each laid their selections for potential candidates out for the board to vote on, and after a few minutes and some tense decisions, the choices were made and the destinies of many young men and women were decided. It didn't escape the two rivals that an equal number of their choices had been accepted and declined: the board knew of the deep friction that ran between them, and wanted to stay as close to a happy medium as they could.

"I approve," Fitzgerald concluded.

"I approve as well," Rosewood added. "Now we'll move on to the next order of business. Please offer your suggestions for use of this surplus." And so one by one, the members of the board stood up and made their sales pitch. Most of their ideas were suggestions turned in by students and faculty, but a few were proposed quite selfishly. Somebody wanted to use that money to add an extra room for the library, while another called for a new campus store, and several were in favor of more parking spaces or an elective class. Finally it came down to the Chairman and the Dean. Fitzgerald stood up quietly and removed his glasses before he spoke, wanting to penetrate everyone with his deep blue eyes.

"All of these ideas are inventive and well thought-out. Perhaps someday in the future, maybe as early as next year, we'll have the budget necessary to implement everything. But right now, we have to concentrate on what would be best for Carnegie—what would ensure us that we do receive that sort of funding. In order to do that, we must become an outstanding school—not merely in academics, but in some other field. I propose the arts. I propose a program dedicated to the study, appreciation, and performance of music."

"Do you mean a band, or an orchestra?"

"I mean a music program. We can have a band, or an orchestra, or both; it doesn't matter. Art is just as important as academics; it crosses barriers and reaches generations. Art is timeless. We will encourage creativity through this program, and if this board deems my proposal to be good enough, this is what we may use our surplus for. There is already Carnegie Hall; let us be the path to that destination." The board applauded, including Rosewood, and even began to favor it over their decisions. Soon the attention was focused on the Dean, and she stood as humbly and quietly as her adversary. There was no doubt that her plan would be just as significant as the Chairman's, and it would be hard to vote for only one.

"I agree wholeheartedly with Chairman Fitzgerald, which is, suffice to say, a change in my approach. I daresay that in the end, the arts may be even more important than academics itself, for we as a species began expressing ourselves before we sought after knowledge. Regardless, the two inevitably go hand in hand, and it only makes what I am about to say even more difficult. I might even support the Chairman, if we had the means to. But I'm afraid we'll have to disagree again. I am proposing we add a sports team."

The reaction she got did not match the one given to Fitzgerald. Most of the board was skeptical. Fitzgerald buried his head in his arms and grumbled. Rosewood understood their apprehension and decided to argue for her case.

"I already know what you are going to say. We are a small college with no prior history of athleticism, and if we enter into this arena, we shall either be mocked and laughed at by the larger colleges, or else we shall be ignored completely. It is one thing for a university our size to have a music department—it seems like a requirement these days. We shall easily gain respect if we choose this path, and I have no doubt that we will draw the attention and admiration of many people. But there is one advantage a sports team has that a music program does not, and that is the essential drive of the team itself, the focus of unity and community within a group, and the underlying need to overcome so many obstacles. It is true that Carnegie must distinguish itself if we wish for it to have every advantage possible—not only the school itself, but our students and faculty as well—and for that reason, we shall distinguish ourselves not only as a small university that dares to have a sports team, but one that can compete on level ground with any other institute out there!"

She expected furious outrage, amazement, adulation, disbelief, shock, confusion, and despair all at once, but Dean Rosewood did not anticipate the frigid silence that followed instead. The board of directors was not convinced, and had not been moved, and didn't seem to believe in her ideal. She sat down peacefully and let them ponder over it for awhile. Finally, somebody raised his hand.

"Uh, suppose your ideas were implemented, Rosewood. What sort of team did you have in mind?"

"A soccer team. I wanted the sport to be universal, with a definite emphasis on the team, and popular enough that it would reach more people. I had considered basketball, of course, but I think it's high time our younger generations found an honest attraction to this pastime as well." Rosewood didn't dare reveal that her original goal had been to introduce a wrestling team to the school—and make divisions for both genders. Having exceptional ideas was one thing, but she couldn't afford to be avant-garde: her idea would instantly be dispelled. At least now she had a chance.

"Well," Fitzgerald sighed, "you were kind enough to praise my decision, so the least I can do is not insult yours. I am completely against it, of course, but that's all I'll say. Shall we put it to a vote, then? All in favor of implementing a music program?" There were eleven members of the board, counting the Dean and Chairman, so all they needed was a 6-5 majority. Fitzgerald held his hand up first, and four others followed. Rosewood steadied herself and breathed deeply. "Now, all in favor of assigning our budget to Rosewood's suggestion?"

Oh, that magnificent weasel, she cursed inwardly. He doesn't even have the courtesy to call it what it is. Rosewood's suggestion indeed! Her mental diatribe was wasted, though, as an astounding four hands rose from the silent gathering. That left one vote undecided, and both contestants stared at the lone holdout as if their lives depended on it.

"Give a man a moment, now," he grumbled, clearing his throat. "Both your proposals are quite valid, and I understand your enthusiasm. It's just like Chairman Fitzgerald said: it's a pity we can't use this money on everything. I only wish we could have both programs—then maybe you two might stop bickering so much. But maybe happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be. Anyway, I'm diverting from my intention. Helmuth, old friend, can you solemnly swear that your musical program will lead at least one student to Carnegie Hall in the next four years?"

"Sir, I've learned long ago to be delicate with promises, wives, and glass, and I can at least assure you that this program will do all it can."

"Just the answer I expected from you," he nodded warmly. "And you, dear Stacie, can you promise that within this same time period, your soccer team can win the national championship?"

"I'll do more than promise, sir," she answered confidently: "I'll stake my position on it. If my sports team fails, you can cut them away, erect your music hall, and find yourself a new Dean. I have that sort of faith."

"Wonderful!" he chuckled. "That's quite a gamble you're making, my dear, but I always did like a wager! Well, Helmuth, she's being fair, isn't she? I'm sure that in four years, Stacie can prove just how beneficial this could be—and if not, you've won, old friend! With risk comes progress, eh?"

"But sir, you can't seriously be—" Fitzgerald was silenced instantly as the sixth and final vote was cast; he sat back in his chair and glowered.

"Give the lady a chance. Four years is nothing, and from the way I see it, you have more to gain than to lose! However, my vote comes at a steep price, Rosewood." He stared at her firmly and touched her, ready to lay the heaviest of all burdens upon her shoulders. "Soccer is a summer sport, if I'm not mistaken, so that leaves you about ten months to find the best coach and the best players possible. The surplus will provide you with equipment, and we'll provide our support; you just have to make sure they win. It is your job on the line, you know!" He winked at her, and she smiled graciously. Needless to say, the rest of that meeting was quite entertaining.

Once the meeting had concluded, Rosewood made sure to thank her supporter one more time before heading out. "I have a weakness for wild dreams and desperate gambles," he admitted fondly, "and besides, I honestly wanted to see Fitzgerald taken down a peg. Oh, he'll do everything he can to hamper your progress, but I know you can do this. You've already done great things with your life, Rosewood, and I know this won't be the last!"

"No, sir. I'm still rather young, and I intend to live out the rest of my years usefully. If you'll excuse me, sir, I would like to start recruiting my coaches. I'm starting a men's team and a women's team, and like you said, I'll need the best there is."

"Do you already have somebody in mind?" Rosewood smiled mysteriously and waved farewell.

"Oh, I might. Good day, sir."

"And you, Stacie."

Thus from humble beginnings may all things originate.

Al Kristopher proudly presents

With the cooperation, devotion, and love of many talented individuals

"All-Stars"

An Epic Tale of Beautiful Warriors and their Invincible Dreams