Hillsdale students of all stripes agree: we didn’t choose the easy road. You go home over break and your friends at state schools complain about difficult classes or tough humanities professors, and the voice in your head — however small — says, “Sure, but not Hillsdale tough.” When they complain about the weather, you think of negative-30-degree windchill and your driveway that still looks like an outdoor hockey rink in March, and you laugh.
Over Christmas break, my family was having lunch with some new friends. The oldest son, a junior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, didn’t say anything when I made some off-hand comment about Hillsdale being hard, but I could’ve kicked myself a few moments later when he described the physical standards, the academic rigor, and the rituals and protocols of being a midshipman-in-training. As a first-year, he had to yell his rank, serial number, and request permission to pass every time he rounded a certain corner. Classes are tough and physical standards are high, but in addition to all this, sailors are held to exacting standards in their appearance and are routinely hazed by older students. They must carry themselves with prestige and earn the honor of the title of the United States Navy.
But it wasn’t the difficulty of the Naval Academy that struck me: having applied to be a Marine Officer Candidate last year, I knew in a small way what military rigor could look like, and I had learned very quickly that the mental obstacle is easily the biggest one to be conquered in becoming any kind of soldier. I didn’t make it to Officer Candidate School because of hearing loss, but if I had, would I have had the mental toughness to complete the two six-week cycles? I don’t know. But this young man, who was maybe a year older than me, had been doing it for over two years. And there I was, complaining about writing papers.
One of our closest family friends is a West Point graduate and a Colonel in the United States Army Reserves. When he describes returning to school when he was our age, he talks about “the Gloom”: the feeling of impending doom that hangs over every student on the bus ride from the airport and gets heavier the closer he gets to miserably cold, wet, West Point, New York.
It’s not a question of thriving in classes or becoming best friends with roommates that concerns most of these guys, it’s making good grades even when they’ve been on duty out in the freezing rain all night before the test. It’s getting good marks despite playing some pretty audacious pranks, because there’s not much else to do for fun. (We complain that the closest Target is an hour-long drive away, but wouldn’t it be worse to have limits on when we’re allowed to leave campus at all?)
This is not to diminish the difficulty of Hillsdale. It’s also not to say that harder school is better school. What young men and women are put through at the military academies and training programs performs a specific purpose — to prepare its students for war — which a liberal arts school isn’t and shouldn’t be trying to perform. But it serves as a reminder that, though we endure difficulty, we are not unique in our struggle. There are some students whose lives are easier, but there are some whose are much harder, and it would be laughable to suggest otherwise.
Next time you want to complain about the miserable weather in Michigan, remember that you don’t have to stand outside in it for several hours, drilling or patrolling or doing a cadence run. If you’re tempted to whine about how hard it is balancing work and classes, remember that you’re not also required to yell out your name and class status and “request permission to pass, sir!” every time you get to Jitters Coffee in Lane Hall. Instead of thinking about how “hard” you have it, rejoice in the challenge — or as they say in the Marine Corps, “embrace the suck.”
Carmel Kookogey is a sophomore studying Politics and is a George Washington Fellow.