I graduated from Arizona State University in 1982. Either shortly after or shortly before I graduated I learned about Hillsdale College, probably from National Review magazine, and wished I’d gone there instead of the secular behemoth I attended. But it was too late for me. I could never have imagined at the time that I would one day live outside of Chicago (HELP!!), and thus live three and a half hours from Hillsdale College, and that my daughter, Gabrielle, would choose to go to college there.
She graduated exactly one week ago with a degree in Religion and a minor in Classical Education, and soon will be a 5th grade school teacher at a start-up charter classical school near Tampa, Florida. We hate to see her move away from home for now, but what she has learned and who she has become in the last four years has prepared her well for the real world, as we say, and especially to be an inspiration to public school children who will catch the excitement of learning according to a classical model (check the link in case you don’t know what that is).
Several things stand out about our Hillsdale experience. When we dropped her off four years ago, I was blown away by the Hillsdale atmosphere. I know it’s a conservative college and all, but I wasn’t sure what to expect; what I found far exceeded my expectations. I love to listen to Hillsdale president, Dr. Larry Arnn. In my book the man is a genius with an intense passion for the things that truly matter, those our Western heritage bequeathed to us from classical antiquity and our Biblical roots, both Athens and Jerusalem (you must check out the Hillsdale Dialogues, where almost every Friday for the last year and a half Dr. Arnn discusses the great works of Western civilization with Hugh Hewitt). At that convocation I cried, not only because my oldest was leaving the nest, but out of gratitude that she was coming to such a place as this.
I got a call from her the first morning of her first day after her very first class, a Western Heritage course all students are required to take. Her professor, the inestimable Dr. Bradley Birzer, started the course with Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” She was ecstatic. Gabrielle had gone to public schools, and you don’t get much God there, other than as an historical curiosity. Here was Hillsdale College teaching her that God as Creator, whether you believe it or not, is the foundation of our Western Heritage. This was a harbinger of a very promising four years to come.
Watching her flower intellectually over these last four years has been a joy to behold, and I’m not sure many other institutions of higher learning could have given her what she received at Hillsdale. Her thinking, writing and speaking have improved tremendously, which is the fruit of a truly liberal arts education. Her confidence in her faith and worldview is grounded in the permanent things, as Dr. Arnn is fond of saying, and cannot be shaken. You cannot also spend four years at Hillsdale without getting a profound appreciation for the genius of the American Founding, and why it must be defended.
She also got involved in a sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma; Greek life at Hillsdale is a bit different than you’ll find at other colleges and universities, as you can imagine. Sure there is a bit of partying going on, but in Kappa they actually strive to inculcate virtue and character into the young women. Gabrielle’s fondest memories of her time at Hillsdale will come from the friends she made in Kappa, and the leadership lessons she learned in an intimate environment of young, imperfect, and often naïve women who were themselves striving to learn the lessons Hillsdale teaches.
It’s sad her time there is over; she’s going through a kind of a grieving process of leaving “the Hillsdale bubble” as they call it. But she could not be better prepared to engage the culture and shine the light of truth and dignity everywhere she goes. We are so proud of her, and so proud that this place called Hillsdale College exists amid the prevalent darkness and shallow political correctness of higher education in America. May it ever more effectively help roll back the tide of progressive attempts to “fundamentally transform” America.