Inspiration in a Blue Blazer: The Joy of DECA, Part II

Editor’s Note: In our May 29 issue, we published a piece by Jay Nordlinger about DECA. The organization held its big international conference in late April. This week, Mr. Nordlinger has expanded his piece in his Impromptus. For Part I, go here. The series concludes today.

As I’ve mentioned, there are 16,000 kids here in Anaheim — 16,000 DECA-ites, doing their thing. And they reflect a great diversity. They come from every corner of America, and in every flavor, pretty much.

I meet Italian-American kids from New Jersey — right out of Central Casting. And Mexican-American kids from Albuquerque. And black kids from the Deep South — and from the Rust Belt cities.

In the DECA throng, there are many, many South Asian kids: the sons and daughters of immigrants from India. No doubt the fathers of a good number of them are motel owners, pharmacists, and engineers. No doubt these kids have been instilled with the values of hard work, entrepreneurship, and upward mobility.

‐One of the things that students here at the Anaheim conference do is run for office — the various offices of the wide DECA network. On an exhibition floor, there is a booth promoting the candidacy of one Vishwesh Ravva. He lives in Memphis and is running for vice-president of DECA’s southern region. Campaign slogan: “Wish for Vish.”

‐When I look at these kids in their blue blazers, with the DECA patch; when I see them planning for their future, and thinking about their place in the economy, and dreaming of what they might contribute — I think they are as American as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer ever were.

‐The 200,000 DECA high-school students across the nation mirror the general high-school population: in the male-female ratio, for instance. But they differ in one respect: They tend to come from poorer families. They may have an unfortunate cycle to break out of. They may be hungry to get ahead and prove themselves.

There is a young woman here who has never been out of her hometown (in Pennsylvania). Neither have members of her family. She is here thanks to a scholarship from AT&T. Her world has been vastly widened.

‐When competing, DECA students must wear their blue blazers. Why? Well, the blazer looks kind of sharp. But also, it’s an equalizer. Rich kids, poor kids: They all look the same, essentially. No one need worry about the vexing question of dress.

‐On the exhibition floor, there are many booths, booths galore. Near the front are two branches of the military: the Army and the Navy. The Army features a slogan that goes, “Lead Faster.” I think what that means is: “Assume a leadership position faster in the Army than you would elsewhere.” But I’m not sure.

There are also booths representing business schools and institutes — including a hotel school in Lausanne. That sounds desirable, if you’re inclined toward the hotel business.

And there are all sorts of businesses, with booths. Take Sparkling Ice, a beverage line: “Never Too Busy to Get Fizzy.”

On this exhibition floor, businesspeople meet potential future employees. And students meet potential future employers. It’s win-win, in that capitalist way.

‐There is a gift shop, selling a variety of “spirit wear.” (In fact, I learn this term.) Many shirts and hoodies and so on have the DECA logo on them. There are also teddy bears, decked out in DECA shirts. I’m told that students and teachers love the “brand”: the DECA brand. There is a DECA culture, a DECA family feeling, and the spirit wear is part of it.

You can also buy flip cards, which are learning aids. Here is one from the “Marketing” pack: “Cost-Plus Pricing.” And on the back: “This type of pricing includes the variable costs associated with goods, as well as a portion of the fixed costs of operating the business.”

Here is one from the pack marked “Business Management + Administration”: “Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI).” “A process improvement technique for evaluating how efficiently a company is able to deliver technology products to its customers.”

I got a million of ’em. Or rather, DECA does.

‐In one patch of the exhibition floor, students are engaged in madly intense video games. Now, what I have called “games” are actually VBCs, or “Virtual Business Challenges.” These challenges are divided into several categories, including restaurants, hotels, retailing, and sports management.

Consider the restaurant challenge: Students have to figure out menu pricing, purchasing, staffing, a dining layout, a kitchen layout, etc. Moreover, they have to do it under the gun — on the clock — competing against others. They are zealously focused.

‐Later on, thousands of DECA kids will sit in front of hundreds of judges, participating in an array of competitions. There is an introductory level, which involves role-playing: How do you train a new employee? How do you deal with an angry customer? And at the top level, you submit a 30-page business prospectus. These kids like Shark Tank, the TV show? Now they’re really in a shark tank.

‐Some of the kids have businesses already. Horse-grooming, for example. I hear about a student from last year who started a business online. He sells vintage and limited-edition sneakers. And he has made a lot of money. This is an advance beyond the old lemonade stand (though kids still create and man those).

‐As for the judges, they come from myriad sectors of the business world. They may be with well-known companies, such as Marriott, Men’s Wearhouse, or Otis Spunkmeyer. They may be dot-com whizzes. Or franchisees. Or bankers. Or even officials of the Small Business Administration. Many are DECA alumni.

That’s the way it goes in DECA: one generation helping another.

‐I meet two students from Dallas who have just been through a round of competition. They were charged with outlining plans for a fall festival — a fall music festival. Forty performers on three stages, offering all genres of music. And they had 30 minutes to prepare their plans.

How did they do? They’re not sure about the judge, but they themselves feel pretty good about it.


A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.


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