Ph.D. student Kathleen Thompson and her husband Rocky. Facebook

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.”