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Letterman Scholarship

For the last twenty years, students with so-so grades have taken heart in a rumor involving Ball State University and a certain gap-toothed late-night talk show host. According to urban legend, Hoosier native David Letterman established a scholarship at his alma mater for students with nothing better, or worse, than a “C” average. The rumor has insinuated itself so thoroughly into reality that the apocryphal “C”- average scholarship has been listed on the Internet and discussed at college financial aid sessions.

David Letterman earned a Telecommunications degree from Ball State University in Muncie in 1969. The host of Late Night is, in fact, the benefactor of three scholarships that have been awarded there annually since 1985. The criteria for the awards, which recognize creative telecommunications projects, do not include a grade-point stipulation.

The mix-up may have arisen out of Letterman’s own self-professed academic mediocrity, an oft-mentioned topic during the self-deprecating comic’s routine. Citing the Top Ten “Things My Mother Said to Me While Growing Up”, Letterman included the following remark at number five: “With grades like these, you’ll have to go to Ball State.” To further the confusion, a plaque hanging outside the Ball State student radio station reads, “Dedicated to all “C” students before and after me!” with Letterman’s signature below. The plaque recognizes Letterman’s gift to the station—known as “The Bird”—in 1986. Now broadcasting at 91.3, WCRD—or “Cardinal Radio Dave”—was WAGO-AM 570 when Letterman deejayed there during college.

It is conceivable that the credibility of the “C” scholarship story has only been enhanced by Ball State’s location in Muncie. The city has historically served as a gauge of what’s average. In the 1920s, Muncie played host to a sociological study that resulted in the best-selling book, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture.* Ball State, on the other hand, has been garnering accolades recently for being better than average. The Princeton Review recently recognized Ball State as one of the Best in the Midwest; and its broadcasting program has been rated eighth in the nation.

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