Congressman Paul Ryan speaks at Wheaton College breakfast event
“The Provost has asked me if we could rethink our 8 o’clock class policy seeing the excellent turnout this morning,” President Philip Ryken said on Monday, before praying over the ensuing J. Dennis Hastert Center-hosted breakfast with Congressman Paul Ryan.
More than one hundred suit-clad business/economics, international relations and political science majors filled the South Party room of Anderson Commons at 8 a.m to hear Ryan’s remarks. The event was moved from the Phelps Room of the Beamer Center in order to accommodate the unanticipated number of RSVPs to hear the prominent congressman from Wisconsin and running mate of Mitt Romney in 2012 share his thoughts.
In the midst of hitting a few often-pressed political buttons, Ryan tailored his speech for Wheaton’s Memorial Student Center students, resulting in a discussion that would have intrigued scholars from all corners of the academic spectrum, regardless of major.
In the midst of examining debilitating debt and pressingforeign policy issues, Ryan named moral relativism as the nation’s most crippling disorder.
“If you ask me … it is a rotten, shaky, crumbling foundation that society can not long last and endure. We’re practicing fiscal moral relativism — we need those cultural antibodies,” Ryan said, asking the listening students to be the cure.
“If you do not get involved, to help us right our culture, to help us reaffirm the notion that there are norms in society, to help us reaffirm the notion that there are immutable truths, then the status quo will prevail,” he said.
In the same theological vein, Ryan presented a solution to talks about prison and sentencing reforms: redemption.
“Redemption has got to be made cool again in America,” he said. “We all know the power of redemption. We need to put a premium on redemption.”
Among the few tables of distinguished faculty seated near the lectern sat former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives J Dennis Hastert.
“As an old guy, I always watched these young guys down at Congress,” Hastert said, referencing freshmen congressmen like Ryan.
“I tried to pick out the guys who were the doers and movers and shakers and I always believed very strongly in mentorship. Paul was one of the guys I tried to help a little bit along the way and he certainly has fulfilled that dream.”
In Ryan’s opinion, that little bit of help went a long way. “Denny Hastert is one of those people I will be eternally grateful for,” Ryan said when he stood up to speak directly after the Speaker. “I wouldn’t be on the Ways and Means Committee if it weren’t for Denny Hastert.”
Ryan joined the oldest committee in the United States Congress as Chairman in January earlier this year.
“It’s very essential to have people who are ahead of you in life to give you guidance and wisdom, so you can glean from what is important, so you can reach your goals more effectively,” Ryan said.
“I was 28 when I came to Congress for the first time … and one of my greatest mentors when I first came to Congress was Denny Hastert. We affectionately called him ‘Coach.’ He was Chief Deputy Whip, somebody that everybody knew and trusted, so he was asked to be Speaker. He went on to become, at the time, the longest serving Speaker we’ve ever had. One thing that he did as Speaker, true to his form as a coach, was he took young people in Congress and he mentored them.”
The event transpired as a result of a joint initiative between seniors Kelsie Wendelberger and Travis Tos, director of the J Dennis Hastert Center David Iglesias and office coordinator Heidi Leffler, and was reported around two years in the making.
Wendelberger, a Wisconsin native, told the Record, “The event ran smoothly, and we are very grateful to Ryan and his staff for working us into his busy schedule.”
Junior Michael Niehaus, after hearing Ryan speak, appreciated that the congressman discussed waste elimination and entitlement program restructuring.
Niehaus said, “This issue has been overlooked for too many years, and I’m glad to see it finally receiving attention.”
Professor of business Bruce Howard still wanted to hear more.
“I don’t think I got any new information other than a little bit more understanding of what they saw as some of their concerns about Obamacare,” Howard said. “I felt like I learned a little bit more, but the rest of it was not very different from his posture and his campaign.”
Howard recommended an economic prescription to the hiked healthcare prices — boost the human supply side of the supply-demand chart to force down prices. “If healthcare is too expensive,” he said, “then let’s focus on the supply side. How can we get more medical professionals? I think that we could easily double the flow of people into medical school.”
Wendelberger said that overall, the experience of getting to dialogue with a congressman through a question-and-answer session was what made the event worth it.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of bringing in people from the real world and having students listen and learn from them,” she said. “Hearing from these people … bridges the gap between theory and reality, better preparing students to be effective influencers in the world.”