A sig­nif­icant number of Hillsdale alumni return post-grad­u­ation to work for the college. Here, three pro­fessors– Sonja Bindus, Matthew Gaetano, and Katharine Taylor– look back on their student days at the ‘Dale.

Sonja Bindus. Courtesy.

Sonja Bindus, ’92

Head of Early Childhood Edu­cation, Director of The Mary Proctor Randall Preschool

What is one thing that has changed on campus since you were a student?
The physical appearance of campus is the most notable change. Most notably absent is the CAVE (Center for Audio-Visual Edu­cation) in the lower level of the Mossey Library. This is where the “new” campus com­puters were housed. All of the stu­dents battled for com­puter time as none of us were for­tunate to have our own per­sonal com­puter in our rooms (only the wealthiest fam­ilies sup­plied their child with their per­sonal com­puter). As you can imagine, midterm and end of semester times were pure chaos in the CAVE. I remember sitting for hours waiting for a com­puter to become available.

How has your expe­rience here as a student influ­enced your expe­rience as a pro­fessor?
My expe­ri­ences as a student have greatly influ­enced my role as a pro­fessor. Much of the cur­riculum and reading lists are similar or iden­tical to my era. During advising appoint­ments with freshmen stu­dents, I can speak specif­i­cally about my expe­ri­ences and the strategies I used when tackling the rigor of the core cur­riculum.

What was your favorite spot on campus?
The Arboretum. My friends and I went for walks around the Arb as study breaks (this was before the fence was installed and we could walk through there all hours of the day and night). One day after a sig­nif­icant Michigan snow­storm, my room­mates and I “bor­rowed” lunch trays from [the dining hall] so we could sled in the Arb. Our sledding run was on top of the bushes that sur­round the stone gazebo area.

Is there any class offered that you wish you could have taken as a student?
The Con­sti­tution class was not offered at Hillsdale when I was a student. I really wish I could’ve taken this course as a student to broaden my knowledge of these critical doc­u­ments. I truly believe Amer­icans should be edu­cated on the laws and lib­erties afforded to them as cit­izens of this great nation.

What do you wish you would have done dif­fer­ently as a student?
I wouldn’t have changed much about my years at Hillsdale. I forged forever friend­ships and learned more than I dreamed pos­sible when I started my freshman year. However, Hillsdale College at that time didn’t offer very many student groups. There were soror­ities and fra­ter­nities, student fed­er­ation, and only a couple orga­nized student groups. Today I marvel at the variety and number of student-led groups at The Source. When I was a student the only reason to attend The Source was to pick up some Domino’s coupons and get the free mug they handed out each year.

A favorite anecdote…
There were several anec­dotes from my “era” at Hillsdale College. However, one that stands out from the others was the day the clock tower clock was sus­pended in time at 1:15. A classmate of mine, who will remain nameless, was an avid bow hunter and very accurate target shooter. One evening, he perched himself on the library roof and shot an arrow from his high powered bow and landed an arrow just below the 15-minute marker on the clock face. The next morning, all of campus noticed the clock was silent. I’m not sure how they ever retrieved that arrow, but it took a few weeks before the chimes of the clock tower were heard again.

Matthew and Amy Gaetano. Courtesy.

Matthew Gaetano ’05

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of History

What is one thing that has changed in Hillsdale since you were a student?
Most of my classes were held in Kresge. Kresge– oh, how might we account for the oranges of struc­tures from the 1970s!– was (quite sen­sibly) razed to the ground. But its per­petual flo­rescent glow and dis­tinctive buzzing had a certain grace which will forever impress itself on my memory. All that remains of it is the Fish Bowl.

I ate all of my meals in the old dining hall. It was called Curtis Dining Hall, but we just called it Saga. Dr. Arnn would point out that I was not happy about the change to the Knorr Family Dining Hall (which was only in the planning phase). I was mis­taken. The new student center is a major improvement on the old one, though the old snack bar and what we used to call the Ethan Allen Room (or EAR) cer­tainly had their charms.

We also took English and History in both semesters of our freshman year. It was somewhat intense at times, but reading Cicero and Tacitus in Her­itage and Virgil in Great Books around the same time makes a great deal of sense.

I don’t recall the (quite salutary) emphasis on the Honor Code when I was a student. I think that the lan­guage of self-gov­ernment shapes our common life together in a way that was only implicit when I was a student. Dr. Arnn’s way of pointing stu­dents to “the Good” is another feature of campus life that was sadly missing during my student days.  

What is one thing that has stayed similar?
It is remarkable how much has stayed the same. There are real bonds that unite Hillsdale stu­dents from the past, present, and, I would assume, the future. I often look at my stu­dents and discern sim­i­lar­ities to certain friends from my college days. This con­ti­nuity has a lot to do with the Core Cur­riculum and the College’s Mission, but I suspect that there are deeper ele­ments in play. It’s the people.

How has your expe­rience here as a student influ­enced your expe­rience as a pro­fessor?
I often have said that I would have trouble teaching my courses, espe­cially the Western and American Her­itage courses, if I had not attended Hillsdale College. My col­leagues obvi­ously do it extremely well! But, for me, I think that the skills in close reading and the over­ar­ching account of European and American history came from my Hillsdale days. My deep interest in the rela­tionship between phi­losophy and philology, espe­cially seen in my way of han­dling the con­flicts between scholastics and humanists during the Renais­sance, and my concern about tracing con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities between the Middle Ages and the early modern period in all my classes have deep roots in my Hillsdale for­mation. There is a long list of pro­fessors, friends, courses, and con­ver­sa­tions that led me to this point.

What was your favorite spot on campus?
I fre­quently fell asleep in the chairs towards the back of the main level of the library.

I vividly recall walking from Nied­feldt in Sep­tember. Central Hall is really quite beau­tiful in early autumn and from that vantage point. Things changed, of course, as the world grew grayer and grayer. But I was still con­soled by amusing con­ver­sa­tions with my roommate, Konrad LaPrade, during cold mornings on the way to the (now destroyed) Kresge.

And I must mention many dis­cus­sions with Dr. Stewart on the yellow couch in his office.

Is there any class offered that you wish you could have taken as a student?
I wish that I had learned Greek and German as an under­graduate. Alas. But taking Latin was one of the best deci­sions that I ever made.  

What do you wish you would have done dif­fer­ently as a student?
I should have audi­tioned for a play as an upper­classman. Not doing so is one of my deepest regrets.

I also wish that I would have sep­a­rated studying and social­izing a bit more. Work hard. Play hard. Of course, the con­ver­sa­tions that occurred while all of us had books on our laps changed my life and formed friend­ships that last to this day. But I would have been less stressed if I fol­lowed my brother’s example (Hillsdale Class of ’07) and spent more time by myself in the library. It would have given me oppor­tunity for a “deeper” sort of recre­ation during meals, weekends, and so on. As a sign of my lack of genuine recre­ation, I’ll mention that my room­mates would often find me sleeping on the floor with my hands on the key­board or my head on top of a book. This is probably not healthy.  

A favorite anecdote…
There are too many.

Dr. Stewart and I dis­cussed the “beauty” of road signs for hours on the way back from a research trip at The Ohio State Uni­versity.

During the Honors Retreat before the beginning of my freshman year, we read Josef Pieper’s “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” and Newman’s “The Idea of a Uni­versity.” My view of the purpose of edu­cation was never the same.

There are so many anec­dotes from the first few weeks of meeting Amy Plopper, who is now my wife. When I first met Amy at the Honors Retreat, I asked her (in a manner that she remembers as flir­ta­tious), “Do I know you from some­where?” She thought that it was the world’s worst pick-up line. But I could have sworn that she seemed very familiar. She’s quite striking and has a natural white streak in her hair, so she is basi­cally unfor­get­table. Despite my rough start, we ended up dancing at a few dif­ferent events and making a couple of trips to the Pink Panther with larger gath­erings and having some pro­found con­ver­sa­tions. A few weeks after the stars aligned at the SAI Ball, we figured out that we actually had met months before the Retreat when she was a prospective student. The rest is history.

Katharine Taylor. Courtesy.

Katharine Taylor, ’02

Lec­turer in Art

What is one thing that has changed in Hillsdale since you were a student?
I know this is shocking, but the Con­sti­tution course was not a required part of the liberal arts core when I was a student. Also, not everyone had a cell phone and Facebook was unknown. When I was a freshman, stu­dents had to set up their own phone service in the dorm if they wanted it. I had friends who could only be reached on the hall pay phone.

What is one thing that has stayed similar?
Stu­dents still com­plain about the food, name drop Plato in casual con­ver­sation, and try to nav­igate expec­ta­tions for romantic rela­tion­ships. (Hills­dating was a term coined after I grad­uated, but the phe­nomenon hasn’t really changed.)

How has your expe­rience here as a student influ­enced your expe­rience as a pro­fessor?When I look at my stu­dents, I can closely identify with their struggles and pas­sions. I under­stand the workload and pres­sures many of them carry. I also know how much they value their edu­cation. I didn’t expect to love teaching as much as I do, and the unique atmos­phere at Hillsdale has been a part of that.

What was your favorite spot on campus?
I have lovely mem­ories of reading hun­dreds of pages from a Norton Anthology on warm Sep­tember days in the Arb.

Is there any class offered that you wish you could have taken as a student?
I will always be envious that there is a dance program here now. That is some­thing I longed for as a student. I had taken dance classes in high school and missed that form of exercise and expression.

What do you wish you would have done dif­fer­ently as a student?
Probably impos­sible, but I wish I hadn’t spent so much time wor­rying. There are a lot of aspects of college life that seem hugely important at the time and you only find out later that they loomed larger than nec­essary.

A favorite anecdote…
A group of my friends and I danced in the moon­light in the Arb once.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    I appre­ciate Mr. Gaetano’s thoughts on the pre­pon­derance of the honor code at this present moment. It appears that the school has taken on many more total­i­tarian ten­dencies since I left.