Many students compare his deep and booming baritone to the voice of God. And after nearly 37 years of teaching, Professor of History Tom Conner is one of the most beloved professors on campus.
Generations of Hillsdale students have had the privilege of learning from “Doc” Conner, but the class of 2020 has the honor of leaving Hillsdale College alongside this great professor as Conner will be retiring at the end of the spring semester. As Conner leaves Hillsdale after a distinguished career and years of dedication to Hillsdale’s student body, he is the best choice to address the graduating class.
Hillsdale could invite many noteworthy and famous figures to speak at the 2020 commencement ceremony. Other speakers might have wisdom to offer, but they cannot offer decades of knowing and teaching Hillsdale students. As someone who truly understands and values Hillsdale and its students, Conner is the best person to share parting words of wisdom as both he and the class of 2020 move on from Hillsdale College.
Since his days as an undergraduate at Elizabethtown College, Conner desired to teach history at the college level. So, he joined the Hillsdale College faculty in 1983, just after he finished his doctoral program at the University of North Carolina. Though the primary focus of his graduate studies was the diplomatic and political history of modern Europe, Conner has held many different positions at the college including director of admissions, dean of faculty, and history department chair. But in his final years at the college, he has gladly returned to teaching history full-time.
Conner has received many awards and recognitions throughout his years of teaching. Students and faculty chose him as “Professor of the Year” in 1989, 1999, 2008, and 2016. In 2012, “The Princeton Review” ranked him as one of the best 300 professors in the country. Conner was also awarded the William P. Harris Chair in Military History in 2006.
Besides his accomplishments as a professor, Conner is also known for his sincere love for students. As the fourth child in my family to have Conner as a professor, I can testify to his devotion to his students as Conner has taken time to get to know my whole family over the years.
After a long career of working for the college, in September 2019, Hillsdale gave Conner an honorary alumnus award, honoring his decades of devotion to Hillsdale and its students. He received two standing ovations when he accepted his award in the Searle Center.
“I already have two alma maters where I actually had to fulfill the academic requirements,” Conner told the Collegian. “Please believe me when I say that my third alma mater is the one I’m most proud of.”
As a faculty member 17 years before Larry Arnn became president of Hillsdale College, Conner has seen Hillsdale evolve and has been a part of thousands of students’ education and lives. With these decades of experience, there are few who understand Hillsdale and truly know its student body better than Conner. He has seen 36 graduating classes work hard at Hillsdale and move into adulthood. He has spent much of his time with the student body, whether in the classroom, at athletic events, at concerts, or in Europe. There are few who could say they know the students of Hillsdale better than Conner.