When Bruce Wykes spoke to Ph.D. student Kathleen Thompson about what she carries in her diaper bag, she rattled off the list: diapers, wipes, pacifier…and of course, the missionary copy of “The Federalist Papers.”
“Gotta have that,” he remembers her saying.
Wykes, director of operations for the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship, who studied for his master’s degree alongside Thompson and Nathan Gill, said both exhibited tenacity and had to make a lot of sacrifices to get to this point. He said they followed a variation on the college motto: “Strength rejoices in many sorts of challenges.”
And what comes next for both Thompson and Gill will challenge them, but in a different way, as they take a more practical approach to applying their study of political theory.
“I’m excited, who wouldn’t be excited, right? I’m happy that it’s putting the bow on something I’ve been doing for six years,” Kathleen Thompson said. “It’s good to complete a project, it’s an end of an era, too. It’s bittersweet.”
Thompson said it will be good to switch from her dissertation topic — the progressive roots of the home economics movement — to contemporary politics. She wants to work on a city council and then run for state government in Louisiana, where she and her husband Rocky plan on relocating.
Wykes said he is impressed by her ability to parse out an argument to its logical conclusion, a strength that matches her motivation to enter politics.
“She will be that person that keeps her own accountable,” Wykes said.
Gill’s post-grad life will also change significantly: a new father to Emma, born this spring, he and his wife Madeline will move to upstate New York. Ultimately, he wants to open a school near where he grew up.
Gill was answering phones for a congressman when he noticed a lack of strong civic education; that’s when he became convicted about teaching, seeing it as the best way for him to preserve his love, politics.
“Part of what attracted me to Hillsdale was I wouldn’t be locked into being a college professor,” Gill said. Hillsdale, he said, prepared him for what he ultimately wants to do: start a school of his own near where he grew up in upstate New York, in a county he described as kind of redneck and backwards.
“I think the people who most need that aren’t the people who don’t have parents who send them to places like Hillsdale, it’s more the kids who don’t have any choices,” he said.
Wykes said Gill will be the very first student to pass comprehensive exams with honors, which speaks to the caliber of his intellectual acumen. But, he said, Gill’s still personable, good at striking a rapport with people of all different age levels and interests, remembering when Gill spoke at length with Wykes’ two older boys, in their 20s, about their interests: medicine and aeronautics.
Unlike most undergraduate students, the two candidates have to juggle different and additional responsibilities.
Thompson will walk the stage eight months pregnant with her third child, Elizabeth, who is due in June. It’s a life pattern that she started for herself in 2014: walk at commencement and have a big life event.
“I apparently like that life pattern,” she said. “You make it work, you really do. If I really want to do this I will find the time to do this.”
Gill too will be walking just after his wife Madeline, whom he married two years into his PhD program, gave birth to their first daughter, Emma.
The milestones both Thompson and Gill have reached during their education give them a different perspective on their education.
“When you’re married and you’re starting to have to do your own taxes, and you have to be responsible for everything, taking your car to the mechanic, you start to appreciate how these ideas are part of a real world,” Gill said.
According to him, undergraduates are in a bubble — not the Hillsdale bubble — but a bubble of limited life experience. Reflecting on his personal experience, he has been in school his entire life, except for the time that he spent doing politics.
“I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to study for so many years, because I have been able to appreciate it so much more now that my life has intersected with my studies,” he said. “That’s something you’ll probably be able to look back on. It doesn’t require getting a PhD to have those thoughts, fortunately. I wouldn’t wish that on most people.”
While experiencing these life events simultaneously, Gill said the local community helped center his intellectual pursuits.
“We’ve really enjoyed getting to know people in our neighborhood, and having a church where everybody we go to church with lives relatively close to us, that has all helped really center what I did in this place.
While it’s time to move back to New York, Gill said he and his wife love Hillsdale.
“We love being in a small-town atmosphere that feels real, it’s not your typical college town where it’s all people with money who colonize the whole place,” Gill said.
While only two candidates receive diplomas this year, the graduate school is getting more name recognition, and with it, more applications. Wykes said the school received more applications for the fall of 2018 than it has since its inception in 2012, when the pool had five years-worth of applicants.
“I believe in our program. The more we can graduate people and get them into the country with a first principles qualitative approach and that can use quantitative methods, the more I have hope for the future of the republic.”