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Once again, I was racing the clock. Unsur­prising for those who know me, I was writing a paper due in a matter of minutes — but then the phone rang. Nor­mally in these cir­cum­stances, I’d ignore it, but I had been waiting for this call for a week and a half.

“You have been selected for OCS. Con­grat­u­la­tions, Can­didate.” I knew then that, come May 28, my life would become quite dif­ferent.

I stopped writing.

As most people on campus know, our college has a tra­dition of stu­dents joining the armed ser­vices, and the school has enshrined this tra­dition since its founding. During the Civil War, more than 400 stu­dents fought to pre­serve the Union. “The per­centage of male stu­dents who enlisted was higher than that of any other private college in the North,” notes the Hillsdale His­torical Society. “Vol­un­teering became infec­tious, and no Hillsdale stu­dents were drafted during the war.”

Why did these stu­dents join the war? It may have had some­thing to do with two of Hillsdale’s founders: pro­fessor Ransom Dunn and Edmund Burke Fair­field, the second pres­ident of the college. In addition to founding the college, Dunn and Fair­field helped found the Repub­lican Party, which soon pro­pelled Abraham Lincoln to the pres­i­dency. If the way stu­dents and faculty today devote them­selves to one another is a sign of any­thing, then I can only imagine the type of devotion Fair­field, Dunn, and their stu­dents had for each other and the Union which they loved. By the end of the war, more than sixty Hillsdale men had paid the ultimate sac­rifice.

Such was their measure of devotion that the College began a tra­dition. The first “Dec­o­ration Day”  — what we now call Memorial Day — was held on May 30, 1868, when the pro­fessors and stu­dents marched to Oak Grove Cemetery, just north of our campus, to honor those who died in the war. We have lost this annual tra­dition perhaps because most of today’s stu­dents are gone when it would take place. Yet we still remember and honor the dead. Some of our pro­fessors sneak us out of the classroom to visit the cemetery , reminding stu­dents of their her­itage as cit­izens of America and stu­dents of Hillsdale College.

Despite the unfor­tunate reality that the aca­demic year closes before Memorial Day, the College still has one prominent reminder. Today, we have a statue of a lone Union soldier bearing Old Glory placed between Lane and Kendall, staring down Manning Street.

When people learn that I applied to be a Marine Corps Officer, some thank me, and leave it at that, but others ask what I’m willing to fight for.

But I like to remind these friends that it’s for the small things. It’s for going home and having dinner with my family; it’s for summer sunsets on the lake; it’s for con­ver­sa­tions with good company and friendship over a bottle of wine; it’s for a liberal edu­cation; it’s for laughter, joy, and all things that are good.

There are some scary things out there. But we can’t be ruled by our fears. My family, faith, and Hillsdale College have taught me to live my life in accor­dance with what is good, true, and beau­tiful, and it is for the sake of those things that I wish to orient and, if need be, sac­rifice my life.

The Civil War will have ended 151 years ago on May 9. The war took sixty of our fore­bears with it, and although we no longer face the threat of a republic-rending civil war, there is always a need for good people to serve the nation’s armed forces. This piece is ded­i­cated to those joining our nation’s mil­itary, as well as to our peers who gave their lives for the preser­vation of the Union so many years ago, each of whom was willing to give the “last full measure of devotion.”