When the class of 2017 graduates in May, America will be facing four years of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as president. We’re going to need a darn good commencement speaker.
For the most part, the fresh batch of graduates will venture into the world much like other Hillsdalians who have gone before: as lovers of the Good, pursuers of the Truth, and defenders of things like virtue and character. We’ll have to learn how to uphold our principles in a world hostile to the liberal education and tradition we cherish.
What’s different for many of us is that the 2016 “bad choice” election will have been our first taste of the presidential voting process. After that dismal experience, we will need a commencement speaker who is willing to fight for the sake of his ideals — and who can tell us how to do the same. The best man for that job is the Nebraska senator who’s become famous for being what Donald Trump’s “chief political nemesis in the Senate,” according to Politico: Ben Sasse.
As a politician, Sasse is a rare breed: a man of principle and a staunch Christian who not only talks about ideas like virtue and following one’s conscience, but also puts those beliefs into practice. The 44-year-old senator, who only assumed office in 2015, is a statesman who stands above the politics of the moment, resisting the claim that anything but a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary. He’s refused to endorse Donald Trump despite fierce criticism from his fellow Republicans both nationally and near-unanimous renouncement by the GOP in his own state of Nebraska.
That’s because Sasse is a real conservative, though he shirks labeling himself. “One election won’t make America great again,” he tweeted in February. “Defending the Constitution will.” In May, in an open letter to Trump supporters on Facebook, he wrote, “Parties are just tools to enact the things that we believe. Political parties are not families; they are not religions; they are not nations – they are often not even on the level of sports loyalties. They are just tools. I was not born Republican. I chose this party, for as long as it is useful.”
“If our Party is no longer working for the things we believe in,” he continued, “Like defending the sanctity of life, stopping ObamaCare, protecting the Second Amendment, etc. – then people of good conscience should stop supporting that party until it is reformed.” No matter who is president in 2017, Sasse can offer us proof that to vote one’s conscience and hold oneself to a higher standard than political party or elected official — even when it means gaining criticism from fellow conservatives — can still be done.
Moreover, Sasse can speak to Hillsdalians not only as a true fellow conservative, but also as a fellow lover of education. He’s no stranger to the academic life we value here at Hillsdale. He holds five degrees, including a bachelor’s from Yale and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard. Moreover, he loves the liberal arts: he holds a master’s from the small liberal arts St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. He’s studied at Oxford, taught at the University of Texas in Austin, and served for five years as president of Midland University, a small college in Fremont, Nebraska.
Finally, Sasse can speak to Hillsdale grads not merely as a politican, but as a man: a loyal husband to his first and only wife Melissa (who he nursed back to health after she suffered a stroke at a young age) and a faithful father to three children (whom he and his wife homeschool).
The college’s administration may rightly balk at associating with the anti-Trump campaign. Nevertheless, Sasse’s words at commencement would be relevant and enlightening to us as Hillsdalians— relevant for hardcore #NeverTrumpers. Even students who end up jumping on the Trump bandwagon and voting for him as the “lesser of two evils” can still look to Sasse for advice and encouragement.
Every Hillsdale grad has to struggle to learn to serve our nation while still acknowledging allegiance to a standard of Truth higher than that of the temporal government. Sasse knows firsthand what it means to do that — and is bound to have valuable words for us as we go out and attempt to do the same.