In a campus-wide email on Monday, Hillsdale College announced that Tom Conner, professor of history, will give the Class of 2020 commencement address on the rescheduled date of Saturday, July 18. He replaces Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is unable to attend the new date.
Conner was the William P. Harris Chair in Military History at Hillsdale College and a mainstay of the history department for 37 years. He held various administrative positions in addition to his teaching duties, including dean of social sciences, dean of faculty, and department chairman. He also served as advisor to a fraternity. He was voted Hillsdale College Professor of the Year four times and was named one of Princeton Review’s “Best 300 Professors” in 2012.
Senior Class President Adam Buchmann said the class officers selected Conner unanimously, which is unusual.
“There were several people the officers had in mind, but we all came to the conclusion of reaching out to Doc,” Buchmann said in an email. “He was one of the most highly requested speakers coming into the year from a senior class survey, and nobody knows the school and the importance of senior year and commencement like Doc Conner.”
Provost Christopher VanOrman concurred.
“Tom Conner is dearly beloved by our students,” VanOrman said in a press release. “I’m very pleased that he will send them off, and conclude his Hillsdale College career, in such a meaningful way.”
For Conner, the invitation was “one of the biggest surprises of my life, and certainly one of the highest honors.”
“After the shock,” Conner wrote in an email, “the first emotions I felt were gratitude — to President Arnn, to the Class officers, and to the Trustees — and humility in the face of the magnitude of the challenge, and in view of the countless others more gifted and capable than I whom they could have asked.”
Conner explained that the timing of the opportunity makes it especially meaningful.
“Once I announced that this would be my last year of full-time teaching, I have felt a special kinship with this year’s seniors, since we have gone through our final academic year together,” he said. “None of us could have guessed three months ago how different, and riddled with disappointments, this ‘senior year’ would be.”
In his speech, Conner said he hopes to address some of these disappointments and the challenges the Class of 2020 faces graduating into a poor economy and disrupted future. The topic of his speech will be, “The World Hasn’t Changed.”
“I will be trying to help the graduates see the current crisis in perspective, and also to deliver a strong message of encouragement to them as they embark upon the next phases of their lives,” Conner said.