Gen. Robert Neller, com­mandant of the United States Marine Corps, addressed the Hillsdale College grad­u­ating class. Ryan Goff | Col­legian

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.