Central Hall. Nolan Ryan | Col­legian

Like everyone else, I was not pre­pared for the COVID-19 out­break or the grief I would feel in missing many of my last moments at Hillsdale College. Cer­tainly in the grand scheme of life on earth, my grief over grad­u­ation and a missed month of school may be minuscule, but it is a grief made fuller by the recog­nition of what has been loved, and as a senior, what has been lost. 

In the sim­plest terms, this loss has been the place of Hillsdale College — not simply place as a col­lection of atoms, though Hillsdale is cer­tainly that, but rather a place in the fuller sense where spir­itual and physical are somehow joined. 

Four years ago, I decided to attend Hillsdale because I thought my studies would emphasize the same ques­tions about uni­versal truth that had already chal­lenged me in high school, and my decision did not dis­ap­point. The sub­jects studied here, like phi­losophy, history, and chem­istry, are important pre­cisely because they are shared by others equally invested in truth throughout human history. The pursuit of truth may be rare, but it is not exclu­sively ours. 

Yet in another sense, if my Hillsdale expe­rience was removed from its localized context and replaced with a com­pre­hensive handbook on “the good life” that included every class lecture, every con­ver­sation, every prompt, and every essay, there would still be missing pieces in what had been accom­plished.

Hillsdale encounters goodness, truth, and beauty in the midst of yellow brick, chalk­boards, and a Mar­garet Thatcher statue. This inter­section is not an accident, but rather a tan­gible impli­cation of a greater mystery of grace. 

While there are many philo­sophical argu­ments on phys­i­calism and dualism, the Feast of the Annun­ci­ation cel­e­brated yes­terday on March 25 points Chris­tians to the Incar­nation and its impli­ca­tions for the world we live in. 

Matter matters, not because tran­scen­dence is inad­e­quate, but because Jesus, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us, stooping to raise even the sim­plest atom to the level of glory. 

Before coming to this college, I thought physical attributes were, at best, tan­gential to the real aim of intel­lectual under­standing, but instead these physical real­ities have been the very instru­ments used to mold my char­acter and build my intellect. 

Hillsdale has shown me why I must value the inte­gration of the physical and spir­itual realms. But more than that, Hillsdale has been the place where those two real­ities have also met in my own life, and for that gift, I am eter­nally grateful.

For me, Hillsdale includes the sound of 18 new Western Her­itage Readers hitting a desk from Pro­fessor Mark Kalthoff’s full height, the fumbled words of an ill-recited Proem from “Par­adise Lost,” the click of my Pilot G2 0.5 pen that simply cannot write fast enough for Pro­fessor Matthew Gaetano’s lec­tures, the throb of my shin after playing one too many intra­mural soccer games, and the murmur of morning prayer at 8:25 a.m. 

These moments matter. They have shaped me and filled me. I cer­tainly could have learned about goodness or beauty some­where else, at some other time, but I would not have learned them here. And as for me, I would not trade those localized, per­sonal, and pro­found expe­ri­ences for the world. 

Hillsdale has shown me that when tears stream down my face as I read “Letter to My Children,” or when goose­bumps cover my arms as the choir’s first note rever­berates through Christ Chapel, I can actually under­stand those beau­tiful things beyond my physical being pre­cisely because they are con­joined with time and space. 

We read books here to learn about high things, like intel­lectual virtues and the life of the mind. But we also read books with worn-out pages grasped in our paper-cut fingers. In this tiny Michigan town, abstract truths are man­i­fested in real-life people whose very exis­tence bears tes­timony to a greater reality than we can see.

Hillsdale has been the place where high and lofty thoughts meet my physical — and more than physical — person. Because Hillsdale is a place, my desire to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and strength has been most ful­filled in the com­pli­cated, messy, and often frus­trating spaces of this college.

Matter matters because virtue does not fully exist in the abstract — you cannot become coura­geous simply by thinking hard enough. Virtue does not always come with aca­demic ease or white­board clarity. 

“Get your boots on” is not just a nice idea for wannabe intel­lec­tuals. Those words mean some­thing in a physical reality. And some­times, it looks like slugging through the snow in actual boots like we have done on so many winter mornings.

I know that as I move through space and time, somehow low and physical things have been given some share in the glory that is to come. 

So although I do not know if I will ever sit at Baw Beese Lake watching one more sunset, I pray I remember the sound of the trees in the wind as my heart aches for the passing of time and the places that mean so much to me here. Because in those very moments, by the grace of God, the tran­scendent comes to us through the created world, much like the Son of God who lay in a manger. 

The grief of leaving Hillsdale will come to us all sooner or later, but even in the pain, the pal­pable ache is a further tes­timony to incarnate Love. This deep ache brings to mind a line from J. R. R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings.” In the words of Gandalf at the last breaking of the Fel­lowship, “I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are evil.”

Hadiah Ritchey is a senior studying history.