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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.

  • Amy

    Amen! My husband and I always talk about how Hillsdale stu­dents don’t come close to com­paring the high-achievers of the ivy leagues, even though they are well equipped. Maybe this will encourage some of them to go a little further.

  • Andrew

    I would like to see more Hillsdale grad­uates go into national/ federal service. I am tired of the Harvard grads and Yalies running this country into the ground.

  • Josiah Hersey

    Couldn’t agree more Eliz­abeth. I have nothing against the grad­uates I know who have gone on to teach at small schools, or to work at more mediocre jobs — there is honor in spending one’s time working towards a goal, no matter how big the pay­check. However, I feel that, too often, many choose easier routes instead of pushing the bound­aries. Or, even worse, com­plain about not wanting to embark into a “secular” or “greedy” mar­ket­place, like Wall Street. The notion that a person cannot be extremely suc­cessful, influ­ential, and important without com­pro­mising his/her virtue is absurd. Be the best at what you do — this is of the utmost impor­tance. But, fur­thermore, strive to be some­thing that requires for­titude, ded­i­cation and hardship. You won’t regret setting out with an ambi­tious heart, and you’ll be rewarded no matter where you fall if you fight to get to the top in the first place.