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About 100 years ago, the cynical columnist H.L. Mencken wrote a two sen­tence piece that accu­rately frames Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence’s conundrum as he pre­pares for his 2018 Hillsdale College com­mencement speech: “The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is igno­minious and his success is dis­graceful.”

Pence can’t win in the eyes of the public — even in our small-batch eyes. And he never has. When, as Indiana gov­ernor in 2015, he chose to amend the Reli­gious Freedom Restoration Act to favor the LGBT com­munity, prin­cipled con­ser­v­a­tives cried out against him. A gov­ernor letting himself get pushed around by empty threats from those cor­porate eunuchs over at Apple and Sales­force? Ludi­crous. Cow­ardly.

When he was picked as Pres­ident Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016 (goofily billed as the assuagement for “prin­cipled con­ser­v­a­tives”), the rest of the country railed against him “because he hates gays.” That’s the only thing many people know about him. It’s not even true.

But so it goes. Pence is a politician, and he signed up for this hullabaloo.Whatever he does — failure or success — the nation will crit­icize him because he’s only a human. Just like the rest of us.

For many stu­dents at Hillsdale, that’s not the whole problem. By picking Pence as our com­mencement speaker — a choice that has already made national news — some argue that the college fur­thers the per­ception of Hillsdale as the intel­lectual arm of the Trump admin­is­tration, not the paragon of a liberal arts edu­cation you see on the brochures.

It’s a fair crit­icism. Seven of our pro­fessors — including College Pres­ident Larry Arnn — pub­licly endorsed Trump in the 2016 election. Hillsdale just hired Trump’s now-former National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton to be a lec­turer at the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship. If that name isn’t familiar, look up Publius Decius Mus, the fourth-century B.C. Roman consul who wrote a series of fer­vently pro-Trump blog posts in early 2016. Our school is a locus for highly edu­cated people who support The Donald.

And that’s fine. The admin­is­tration and the friends of the college want to situate grad­uates in posi­tions of political influence. Right now, that means sup­porting Trump.

So be it. These people helped most of us pay for our edu­ca­tions with gen­erous schol­ar­ships. To all those lib­erally edu­cated soon-to-be-grad­u­ating stu­dents, the ones who are afraid of becoming implicit in the Trump admin­is­tration just because they will receive their final col­le­giate bene­diction from the vice pres­ident — too late; you took that cannoli. Now leave the gun.

That’s just the nature of this college. We like to say that we approach edu­cation in the style of ancient Athens, building spaces for free inquiry. In truth, we’re more aligned with the tactics of ancient Sparta, which retained order and a spe­cific culture through a strict and rig­orous edu­cation. Hillsdale College is not a place of unbounded con­ver­sation or a center for opening up the minds of its stu­dents with unreg­u­lated dis­course. That would be the same madness that allowed dem­a­gogues such as Alcib­iades to crash the Athenian empire after 30 short years.

No, this is Sparta. Hillsdale College is a con­di­tioning camp that teaches its stu­dents how to think, if the stu­dents choose to par­tic­ipate. Like Spartan edu­cation, which taught its young men to hold the fatherland dear, we learn to cling to the good, the true, and the beau­tiful. Any­thing else is foreign — and not good enough for a Hillsdale student. The only major dif­ference between us and Sparta is that Hillsdale does not force opinions on its stu­dents. It simply presents a way of looking at the world; stu­dents can either embrace it or abandon it to the Michigan cold.

No matter what he says, Pence’s com­mencement address will present weighty ques­tions for stu­dents’ judgement — so give the guy a chance.

After all, these things are a parable. If you listen closely, maybe you’ll decipher its meaning.

Nic Rowan is a junior studying history.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Nothing wrong with learning how to think and learn from a par­ticular per­spective. That’s didactics. As for VP Pence, he’s a great invite for the com­mencement. He’s bright, a man of Faith and is sure to have inter­esting thoughts on Hillsdale and the college expe­rience. If you want luke-warm, polit­i­cally correct pablum go hear Harvard’s Com­mencement speakers. The one this year will sound just like the one last year and the one the year before that-they should hire a mime and broadcast the prior years speech through the public address system.