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.

Compiled by Katarzyna Ignatik

  • 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.