After warming up the crowd Saturday evening, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn announced the king and queen of the 2019 President’s Ball — seniors Gill West and Chloe Kookogey. Despite the lighthearted celebration, beneath the crown and title lies four years of hard work and a serious dedication to Hillsdale’s values.
Professors selected students they wanted to nominate to the court through an emailed poll. From there, the top ten students — five women and five men — submitted answers to questions ranging from ‘What is your major?’ to ‘What are four words you would use to describe yourself?’
Five panelists — Professor of Economics Roger Butters, Professor of English Dwight Lindley, Professor of Politics Adam Carrington, Associate Dean of Women Rebekah Dell, and wife of the college president Penny Arnn — evaluated the nominees through their questionnaires and a 20-minute interview. After deliberating, the panel agreed that West and Kookogey deserved the honor of king and queen. None of the candidates knew who had won the title until it was announced at President’s Ball.
“I did not at all expect to win. When they announced my name I was taken aback and really, really surprised,” Kookogey said. “All I was thinking was, ‘Now I need to dance with Dr. Arnn.’ That was probably the thing I was most nervous about, but it was comfortable.”
West was equally surprised. “I’m not really a popular person. Now I know it’s about faculty decisions, so you can afford to be less popular among the student body,” he said. “I was honored that I was chosen, but it was kind of funny that I got a crown. I thought that was strange.”
For those on the panel, though, the decision was easier. After the interviews and discussion, picking two students was tough but clear enough to be unanimous.
“Everyone who gets recommended is outstanding. You read through their resume and personal statements, and you honestly wonder, ‘Where do such people come from,’” Butters said. “That decision did not come without some bitterness.”
Butters described the decision-making process as determining “fractions of degrees” between excellent students. “Every time you choose one thing you refuse something else, and the thing being refused was in and of itself of extraordinary quality and goodness,” he said. “What you’d really like to do is just give trophies to everybody, but you can’t.”
For Kookogey, the process helped her reminisce about her time at Hillsdale and how far she’d come. “It was a great opportunity to reflect and I probably encouraged my own natural nostalgia more than I had to,” she said.
While West and Kookogey described their career at Hillsdale, panelists listened, impressed by what they had accomplished.
“You see these students as seniors and what they’ve become and how they’ve grown into really outstanding young men and women,” Carrington said. “They are, by the way, smarter and more mature than I was at that point. And to think that Hillsdale has had something to do with their growth and maturity is amazing for me.”
The panel was tasked with identifying students by their commitment to and understanding of Hillsdale’s values rather than simply weighing GPA, extracurriculars, and community service. “Who represents the kind of young person that we would want to come out of Hillsdale?” Carrington said, describing the criterion the panel used. “What kind of person bought into the mission, thrived here, was good for the community, and really exemplified what we would want to see as a result of being at Hillsdale?”
To Lindley, Kookogey and West are “impeccably Hillsdalian” and represent “the kind of students we want Hillsdale to produce.”