Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the United States Marine Corps, addressed a crowd of more than 3500 who gathered in the Biermann Athletic Complex for Hillsdale College’s 167th commencement on Saturday. He encouraged the graduating class to go forth with the effort and character they developed during their time at Hillsdale.
“At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, underneath your name, it’ll say your hometown and that you’re a Hillsdale graduate. And then, there is a space. What do you want that space to say?” Neller said. “Make it count.”
Neller, in succinct Marine style left the seniors with three things to remember: effort matters, character counts, and persevere through all of life’s difficulties.
“So what am I going to say to you that would be different than what I would say to a group of young men and women who are putting on a uniform to defend the nation? I don’t really think it’s any different that what you’ve heard here at Hillsdale,” Neller said. “You’ve had these discussions about what is right and what is wrong, what is honor, what is integrity, what is virtue, what is a good man or woman speaking well, what is accountability.”
Before the commencement exercises, Neller commissioned three new Marine Corps officers — Joshua Bailey, Aubrey Brown, and Dan McAlary — who became second lieutenants hours before walking across the stage for their graduation.
“This really is not a whole lot different than a commission. Those officers are students, and like you, they are beginning the next path in their life,” Neller said. “They completed the rigors of an academic institution, and they will be rewarded a degree. And with a degree comes responsibility.”
Senior Class President Ryan Murphy, who plans to start a women’s accessory business after graduation, also addressed her senior class, referencing the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Corinthians. In the epistle, Paul describes people being like clay jars, vessels formed by God.
“You and I, the class of 2019, are those jars.” Murphy said. “Over the past four years, we were formed, molded, pulled, stretched, and shaped, constantly a work in progress. We were poured into with the intended purpose that, after today, we will pour into others what we’ve learned from this place.”
Co-valedictorians Catherine Bodnar, Marina Bostelman, and Gill West are expected to graduate with 4.0 GPAs, though spring semester grades are not yet finalized. According to Registrar Douglas McArthur, this would bring the total number of students who have graduated Hillsdale with a perfect grade point to 50 since the statistic was gathered in 1977. The co-salutatorians were Nicole Ault, who was also the outstanding senior woman, and Hope Jonker.
“The most annoying thing about this senior class is this: there’s not a top 10; there is a top 11,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said. “They avoided the shame of last year’s senior class in that all 10 are not girls — but most of them are, of course.”
Multiple friends of the college received honorary degrees. Robert Bruce and Neller received honorary degrees in public service along with Steven Van Andel ’91 and his wife, Amy Van Andel. Steven Van Andel was twice chairman of the United States Chamber of Commerce and is now chairman of the chamber’s Executive Committee. He is also on the College’s Board of Trustees.
Though the construction of Christ Chapel was not completed in time for the 167th Commencement as initially expected, next year’s senior class will be the first to celebrate their commencement in the new chapel, according to Arnn. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will be in attendance for the chapel’s dedication ceremony in October.
“All around the campus you see change, which implies that there is something new,” Arnn said. “And although the changes are real and serious, they are superficial — the deeper thing is the same.”
Arnn announced a new capital campaign, which will be the “next phase of our college’s history.” The Four Pillars Campaign will emphasize the four important purposes of Hillsdale’s mission, “the elements of good living for human beings.” These are freedom, faith, learning, and character.
In his remarks, President of the Board of Trustee Pat Sajak said his predecessor Bill Brodbeck’s vision for the college has pushed Hillsdale forward over the past 15 years.
“These will be the golden years of Hillsdale College,” Sajak said.