In the summer of 2009, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “How Hillsdale Beats Harvard.” While the article focused predominantly on Hillsdale’s consistent refusal to accept government funds, the idea that Hillsdale could be better than an Ivy League school always struck me as inspiring and true in many ways.
As any incoming freshman can testify – Hillsdale is hard. Our professors grade us by an older standard of academic merit, not by the inflated grades used by state universities today (much to my chagrin come December). We strive for academic excellence. We study the great philosophers; we grapple with age-old questions; we write papers late into the night; we sit around coffee shops and beneath trees in the arboretum discussing everything from Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech to the true meaning of salvation. Furthermore, we do it with pride and a fervent belief that to do anything less would be wasteful of our talents and purposes as rational human beings. When we graduate, we leave with humility, realizing, as Socrates did, that we do not think we know what we do not know.
Given our great classical training, our intelligence, and our determination, I’m always surprised to find that many of my classmate’s lack the ambition characterized by students of Ivy League schools. For how many of us is the classical school job fair the single most important day of the year? So many Hillsdale students believe the only respectable occupation for an honorable scholar dedicated to virtue and knowledge is teaching. I do not mean to throw teaching under the bus. Quite to the contrary, to be a teacher is a noble act, one that must be guarded with the utmost caution, for it deals with the shaping of another person’s mind. If a Hillsdale student feels called to teach, if he feels it is the profession that will make him happy, then I say, “go forward, my friend, and fulfill your calling honorably.” Some of my dearest friends hope to be teachers upon graduation; indeed, I hope to fulfill such a role someday. I find it interesting, though, that so many Hillsdale students find teaching to be the only acceptable career for themselves, when we are equipped with the knowledge and talent to find achievement down so many other career paths.
Teaching lures us with the sweet summers of travel and leisure and the possibility to delve deeper into our treasured books. We shrink from city high rises with their impersonal slick windows and stark rooms. Yet, is there not also greatness to be found in a high-powered lawyer fighting for justice or a businessman who refuses to sacrifice beauty for efficiency or a doctor working tirelessly to save someone’s life? These things are all achievable for the ambitious Hillsdale student.
We ought to give ourselves more credit. My fellow classmates are some of the most intelligent, compassionate, and virtuous people I know. They are precisely the people who can and deserve to succeed, and they are the people I hope to see as tomorrow’s producers and leaders. Rather than insulate Hillsdale’s classical teaching in communities that already value liberal teaching, why not bring our love for virtue and our burn for knowledge to those who need it most – our businesses, hospitals, law firms, media centers, etc.
My point is that the typical Hillsdale student is equipped with the knowledge and character to achieve greatness in any career, be it teaching in a small town or running a company in New York City. Let us think hard about what we really want and how we can best make a difference in this world. Let us not limit ourselves to a single occupation merely because it seems familiar, but rather, reach for the stars. Perhaps I’m biased, but I’ve always believed a Hillsdale education superior to that of any Ivy League. If Ivy League students can accomplish success down so many career paths, with an added touch of ambition, just think what the Hillsdale graduate might achieve.