From 1999 through the end of 2001, I taught in a graduate program in Kyiv, Ukraine, at National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In the first few weeks after I arrived, a famous Ukrainian academic was tragically killed in a car accident and the entire campus closed for a few hours for a memorial service. All our Ukrainian faculty and staff were attending, so I joined them.
The service was held in the university chapel, a small building in the middle of campus near our offices. During Soviet times, which had ended a mere eight years earlier, the chapel had been desecrated and used as a storage facility for old junk. It was dark, dingy, and beat-up.
As I stood for the memorial service, I looked at the people crowded into the chapel. Only eight years before, what they were now doing would have been illegal. The mourning and the devotion were real, and I found it gripping. It struck me how the shabby facilities did not matter at all. What mattered was what lay in the minds, hearts, and actions of each person in the room.
Returning to Hillsdale College each year after spending the summer in Montana, I’m always struck by the excellence and beauty of our facilities and our campus. Hillsdale’s buildings are impressive, and the grounds are lovely. Our soon-to-be-completed Christ Chapel could contain that of Kyiv-Mohyla with room left over.
All of this is good, but I don’t think it matters that much. There are colleges with equal or better facilities than ours, but I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I were returning to one of them.
What’s important and different about Hillsdale is what I tend to find in the minds, hearts, and actions of the students, the staff, and the faculty. I think Hillsdale is different from most schools because we have the freedom to choose the paths we think best, and we hold the concomitant responsibility to choose wisely. There’s a sense here of being more mindful of mission and purpose. It’s not the same as the other schools to which I’ve been in the U.S.
It’s easy for me to forget this and to take for granted the remarkable opportunities I’ve been given at Hillsdale and in this country. Perhaps it’s so for you, too. But periodically, I find it useful to remind myself of what I have here, to be grateful, and to think about how to make the most of it.