Mike Rowe is right in the middle of the action when filming his hit television show, “Dirty Jobs.” Whether it’s making fireworks or walking city sewers, Rowe is in the thick of whatever disgusting, and often demeaning, task his show is covering.
The show is his ode to hard work, a way to showcase the back-breaking, thankless jobs done by so many Americans. Rowe champions the nitty-gritty.
As the 2021 commencement speaker, Mike Rowe could give perspective to a Hillsdale College education.
At Hillsdale, we do the academic equivalent: we pour ourselves into ancient texts and primary sources, having difficult conversations about unsolvable topics. It’s a different kind of nitty gritty, one that happens in the comfortable chairs of the student union, latte in hand, sewage nowhere to be seen.
We see a lot of merit in what we do here, in how we approach education. However, our lives at school tend to be fairly easy. Existence at Hillsdale College, save walking to class in the ‘polar vortex,’ is fairly comfortable.
Rowe sees dignity in hard, honest work. The jobs showcased in “Dirty Jobs” are the backbone of our nation. Sludging through sewage might not be glamorous, but it is necessary to keep society clean. Rowe could speak of the integrity required to do this kind of work.
For Rowe, it doesn’t matter if these individuals have a college degree. What matters is how well they do their jobs.
His foundation, Mike Rowe Works, has provided $5 million in scholarships for individuals learning trade skills through his Work Ethic Scholarship Programs. Additionally, he hosts the Facebook Watch series “Returning the Favor,” in which he travels to all corners of the United States, profiling local heroes and providing them with more resources to further their work in their communities.
Rowe could present Hillsdale students with something they don’t often hear. He could make the case for roll-up-your-sleeves, dirty work. He could speak of success that’s not determined by the amount of extracurriculars you’re involved in or the perfection of your GPA.
At Hillsdale, we’re often told of the uniqueness of our education — of how privileged we are to go here. That’s all true. The Hillsdale education differs greatly from that of a standard American university. Those who study here are truly blessed.
A Hillsdale degree does not equal success, however. A piece of paper does not and will not make one’s way in the world. To truly do justice to the degree earned, we must achieve something with it. One must have integrity and a willingness to do the work that life requires.
Rowe’s entire brand is built upon integrity and hard work. Hillsdale College students do not lack these attributes, but a reminder of the importance of these characteristics could prove beneficial as graduates prepare to begin their lives.
In addition to speaking to Hillsdale students about something we don’t often hear, Rowe could also speak to things we know well. Hillsdale students are all marked by a curiosity about the world. We come here to learn about the world, to explore those things we’re passionate about, and even the things we’re not.
Rowe’s career is marked by curiosity. Whether narrating a nature documentary or recording an episode of his podcast “The Way I Heard It,” Rowe approaches everything he does with an insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn about the world. As Hillsdale’s commencement speaker, Rowe could speak to our curiosity and call us to explore our passions.
Another point for Rowe is his political affiliation. More specifically, that he doesn’t have one. Rowe is famously neutral in politics. In this time of political polarization, Rowe is a good choice for Hillsdale. Hillsdale College students come from different religious and political backgrounds. As politics continue to split apart families and friendships, Rowe will be a refreshing break from that divide.
Mike Rowe is the right choice for commencement speaker. The man has wrangled snakes and castrated sheep. He’s been in places and done things that most of us don’t even want to imagine. Someone like that probably has something to teach us. As the curious students we are, let’s give him a chance to do it.
Regan Meyer is a senior studying Rhetoric & Public Address.