As you know, this is the last edition of The Collegian. There are three lessons I gained here at Hillsdale. I wanted to share them before I leave. While they are by no means exhaustive, I think there is some wisdom in them. I hope you find them useful, as I have.
1. Your plans do not need to come to fruition. I came to Hillsdale a young man in a hurry, overanxious to do great things. I started running for Student Fed as soon as I figured out when the elections were. I looked around at the college with an eye for how I could reform things and stick my name on that reform. I viewed the college as yet another battleground to be conquered — yet another place to plant my flag. I set GPA goals, determined the offices I wanted to hold in all the clubs I wanted to join, and even the had audacious “objective” of choosing a girlfriend during the next four years. It didn’t work.
For the most part, God spared me and everyone else from my plans. But holding too tightly to “my plan” did manage to cause almost all the frustration I’ve felt in college. In fact, many of the things I’ve done that I now consider worthwhile — like getting into the journalism program — came as surprises along the way.
God does, in fact, have good plans for us. They might not correspond with ours. They are better than the ones we have for ourselves. While here in college, I’ve learned how to trust Him. Though, I would like to remind heaven that, as this article goes to print, I’m still single.
2. People are easy to lead, but hard to drive. Winston Churchill via Dr. Arnn first shared that truth with me, and it has really stuck. The great men we study here held an open hand to those who followed them. King David’s mighty men did not follow him for fear of David or admiration of his skill with a sling. They feared the God who guided the stones and followed David because of it.
Hillsdale affords opportunities for nearly every student to lead something, somewhere. The places I have been granted the chance to practice leadership — this Opinions Page, for instance — clearly taught me that good leadership has very little to do with your own personal merits and virtues. We fallen beings can do amazing things, but we will always screw up somewhere along the way.
The professors and fellow students do exhibit one key virtue: the virtue of seeing the beautiful ideal in front of them and becoming totally obedient to it, and then lending you their eyes for that beauty. If you are worthy of the beauty, you will not be obedient to leaders, but obedient with them, and to the vision before you and them.
3. Ambition and humility are not opposite extremes on the same continuum. True ambition often requires the greatest humility. A group of us here set out to do the most ambitious thing we could think to do: invite all the GOP presidential candidates to speak at a 1,400 student college and make them talk about the U.S. Constitution. We knew how uphill, crazy, and sure-to-fail a thing it was we were attempting. Getting one candidate would be hard. Getting all of them was a task too great for some of the most powerful people in the country. And we were just students.
Coordinating presidential candidates’ schedules is worse than herding cats. It’s more like herding fire-breathing dragons.
When the entire Constitution Symposium came crashing down around us, when Ron Paul wouldn’t return our calls, Mitt Romney gave us ultimatums, and Rick Santorum uncommitted, the little group of friends who had fought valiantly for our dream retreated from one last meeting in Dr. Whalen’s office to sit together in SAGA. Our dream had died.
As I played with my mashed potatoes in silence, appetite gone, a thought hit me that caused a swell in my heart.
“We did fail,” I said to my downtrodden friends. “But only because we tried to do something hard. The reason more people don’t try hard things is because they are afraid of this moment — the moment of public failure in the dust of defeat — the moment we are living right now. And we knew the risk of failure and plunged into the fray nonetheless.”
It takes a lot of humility to reach ambitiously for the highest things, knowing fully the potential for painful defeat. But that’s what this college has taught us to do every day, surmounting mountains and getting sunburned in the quest for the knowledge of goodness. If we are truly virtuous, that risk, that challenge, is a reason to rejoice.