Michael Ward speaks during a 2005 CCA on “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings.”  (Courtesy of External Affairs)
Michael Ward speaks during a 2005 CCA on “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings.” (Courtesy of External Affairs)

The provost’s office announced on Jan. 14 that Michael Ward will be this spring’s com­mencement speaker.

The insightful C.S. Lewis scholar is Senior Research Fellow at Black­friars Hall at Oxford Uni­versity and Pro­fessor of Apolo­getics at Houston Baptist Uni­versity in Texas. He teaches his Houston Baptist stu­dents online because he is based in Oxford. He has studied English at Oxford, the­ology at Cam­bridge, and earned his Ph.D. in divinity from the Uni­versity of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“It’s fun because he’s not really a political figure as much,” Senior Class Vice Pres­ident Heather Lantis said. “So we really wanted to mix things up and find someone who would speak to the senior class in a really mean­ingful way.”

Ward has pub­lished several works about C.S. Lewis, such as “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imag­i­nation of C.S. Lewis,” which he authored, and “The Cam­bridge Com­panion to C.S. Lewis,” which he co-edited. He also pre­sented the BBC doc­u­mentary, “The Narnia Code,” in 2009, and served as an Anglican chaplain at both Oxford and Cam­bridge uni­ver­sities.

Provost David Whalen said Ward has been a good friend of the college through a common friend: Former Hillsdale College Pro­fessor of English Lit­er­ature Andrew Cuneo.

“Michael Ward was pre­senting his doc­torate of divinity and had stumbled on some remarkable, struc­tural, clas­sical com­po­nents to C.S. Lewis’ septet that no one had noticed before,” Whalen said. “He then was writing that as his dis­ser­tation, and gave a talk on that here then. After his book was pub­lished by the Oxford Uni­versity Press, he came back here and gave another talk. The talk at the Kirby Center had to do with the poetry of C.S. Lewis.”

This first visit was during Sep­tember of 2001. Ward’s visit was intended to span from Sept. 10 – 13.

“As Dr. Cuneo showed me round Delp, where his office was, Dr. Somerville beckoned us over and told us about the first plane.  Of course, we didn’t know at that point that it was the ‘first’ plane. News was still uncertain and con­fused, but as soon as the second plane hit, we realised that this was a major, major event, for America and for the world,” Ward said in an email.

That same day, Ward was scheduled to give a talk on C.S. Lewis and World War II.

“The subject sud­denly acquired a whole new rel­e­vance in light of the fact that America had that very morning suf­fered an act of war,” Ward said. “I remember the atmos­phere in the college being very shocked and subdued.”

Ward has since returned to Hillsdale several times. The last time, he taught a two-week long seminar on C.S. Lewis.

Ward said he believes in the value of a liberal arts edu­cation that stands against the “increas­ingly func­tion­alist and util­i­tarian zeit­geist of much British and American culture, namely “lib­er­ality.”

“Not every­thing we do has to have an ‘outcome,’ nor must it nec­es­sarily be done with utmost ‘effi­ciency,’” Ward said.   “To turn liberal edu­cation into voca­tional training is a con­stant temp­tation, and one which true liberal arts col­leges, like Hillsdale, resist —  not because they’re stuck-in-the-mud reac­tionary redoubts, but on the con­trary because they’ve already advanced to a fuller and richer under­standing of what the good life needs to include.”

Whalen said, in addition to Ward’s friendship with the college, it’s good to have chances for stu­dents to meet and hear someone of Ward’s caliber and char­acter.

Senior Class Pres­ident Andy Reuss said many of the seniors said they wanted a com­mencement speaker who would give a speech of sub­stance.

“We wanted to focus on content and sub­stance, and we received just a lot of feedback and input from the other seniors along those lines,” Reuss said. “There was some desire for name recog­nition, but that wasn’t the foremost thing people were con­cerned about. We wanted someone who would give a great speech.”

The process for picking a com­mencement speaker begins with a con­sul­tation with the senior class officers, the college pres­ident, the vice pres­ident for external affairs, and the provost. The senior class officers consult with the senior class, the faculty consult with the pres­ident and provost, and the vice pres­ident of external affairs con­sults with his staff.

“It’s a good thing for a com­mencement speaker, if you can get one, to have a deep under­standing of the life of a student, and the life of the mind as richly endowed through and in a liberal edu­cation,” Whalen said. “That’s a rare thing for a com­mencement speaker. It’s good if you can get it. Michael Ward has that. He under­stands not only because he, not so long ago, was a student, but because he is an aca­demic. His pro­fession is that of an aca­demic, but at the same time he is capable of addressing an audience largely unknown to him, but whose liberal arts for­mation can be available to him as a kind of common ground.”

Lantis said the reaction from stu­dents has been very pos­itive.

“I think a lot of people have been really pleased,” Lantis said. “The con­sensus with the officers is that they’ve heard a lot of people are really excited.”

Reuss noted that Ward spoke at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship last summer, and the speech was well-received by stu­dents there.

“The stu­dents will warm to him and wish they could have had him as a pro­fessor. And we might not actually let him return. We might just duct tape him to a chair and put him in Kendall or Lane and wait until next fall,” Whalen said jok­ingly. “He’s a delightful, artic­ulate, intel­ligent, unpre­ten­tious man.”

The com­mencement cer­emony will begin at 2 p.m. on Sat­urday, May 9.

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Amanda Tindall
Amanda Tindall is the features editor of the Collegian. From northeastern Nebraska, she hopes to move back to the east coast after graduation in 2016. She has worked at the Washington Post Express and the Toledo Free Press, and her favorite form of writing is long-form features and magazine pieces. Email: