Anthony Esolen, an internationally known translator and writer, will speak at Hillsdale College’s 165th commencement ceremony on May 13, 2017.
Provost David Whalen made the announcement Wednesday, after Esolen accepted the college’s invitation to address the class of 2017. Senior class officers said they chose Esolen to speak based on recommendations from faculty, peers, and alumni.
“I think he is going to give an impactful, powerful speech,” senior class President Jacob Thackston said. “It’ll be a speech to remember for the rest of our lives. That is what we wanted most of all.”
With help from President Larry Arnn, the senior class officers narrowed down a list of 24 names, deciding upon Esolen in September. Thackston said several professors as well as Vice President for External Affairs Douglas Jeffrey recommended Esolen for commencement speaker. He was ultimately chosen because he would be an engaging speaker that could impart wisdom on the class of 2017 upon their graduation.
“We decided Esolen is the best fit,” Thackston said. “He is an incredible speaker.”
Esolen, a professor of Renaissance English literature and the development of Western civilization at Providence College, in Rhode Island has translated several classical works, including Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” with Modern Library Classics from Italian into English. His “Inferno” published in 2002 and “Paradise” in 2005. Some English professors at Hillsdale use his copies in their Great Books I classes.
“Commencement speakers have an impossible task,” Whalen said in an email. “Dr. Esolen is expert at rising to impossible but glorious tasks, as his beautiful translation of Dante demonstrates. I am delighted for the class of 2017, for the college, and for all who attend.”
Hillsdale’s class of 2015 officers actually invited Esolen to speak at their commencement, but he had to decline because of scheduling conflicts. British scholar Michael Ward, known for his study of C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” spoke instead. Members of the student body also voiced their support for Esolen earlier this semester in the Sept. 17 issue of The Collegian.
Spring commencement won’t be the first time Esolen speaks at Hillsdale, however. In 2012, he delivered a Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar lecture on “What is an Epic?”
“We had alumni tell us, ‘That was the best speech we ever heard,’” Thackston said.
Esolen is an editor and writer for Touchstone magazine, which covers matters relating to religion, culture, and literature. His work has also appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, Magnificat magazine, Crisis Magazine, and The Catholic Thing. In the past, he has written a column for Inside Catholic’s website.
A Sept. 26 piece Esolen wrote for Crisis Magazine caused a stir on his campus. In it, he criticizes secularism’s idea of “diversity” as a political movement that pushes for “homogeneity.” He argues real diversity is in the natural foundations of the human race such as in gender.
Following its publication, Esolen became embroiled with the meaning of diversity at Providence, Thackston said, which actually caused him to delay his acceptance of Hillsdale’s invitation to speak at commencement for two months.
As Thackston applies for top 10 law schools, he said he hopes to learn from Esolen’s experience in such controversies.
“He has faced liberal academics,” Thackston said. “For us to hear from someone who has faced that culture at the university level first hand will be valuable for us.”
Esolen has also published eight works of his own with a ninth being released on Dec. 7 called “Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church.” His latest books are “Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story Is God’s Story,” “Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child,” and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.”
Arnn said Esolen is a fine choice for the class of 2017’s final lecture at Hillsdale.
“He is an eloquent and learned man, who knows what commencement is all about,” Arnn said in an email. “He will be great.”