After spending quarantine alone in Texas, Bruno and Ali Cortes are calling Hillsdale home this semester.
“When we were in Texas and everything went down with the coronavirus, we didn’t know anybody. And so that was just basically three months by ourselves in a little apartment,” Ali said. “That whole situation was kind of a good reminder of how important it is to have people around you to talk to and be rational.”
Bruno and Ali met in 2014 while working in the Harry V. Jaffa Document Library in Lane Hall as students at the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. Ali graduated from Ashland University in 2013, and Bruno graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2014.
The two got married a few years later in 2017 before moving to Texas to teach American government and history at the Founders Classical Academy of Leander.
“I think I knew at the end of my sophomore year of college that I wanted to continue on and get my Ph.D.,” Ali said. “I always wanted to teach. I went to Washington D.C. for a summer and was like, ‘No thanks.’”
They returned to Hillsdale this year to teach while Bruno finishes his doctorate degree. Ali is teaching Constitution and American Political Thought as a visiting assistant professor and Bruno is an adjunct professor for an American Foreign Policy course.
While Ali always knew she wanted to teach, Bruno was less certain.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to know more about what I was studying, and I think teaching was the default choice, but not the only choice, he said. “It’s really hard to be a teacher and not be a student, and it’s kind of hard to be a good student unless you think about the ways you could explain what you just learned to people, so the two go together pretty well. They’re mutually supportive and I think mutually enjoyable.”
Now that they’re back in Hillsdale, Ali said they are enjoying their careers and company, but due to their contacts they currently only have plans to stay through the end of the spring semester.
“We love Hillsdale, so if we got the opportunity to stay we would stay.” Ali said. “It’s hard because you want to make plans for the future and settle down and develop roots in a place but you don’t know where you’ll be.”
They’ve found a lot of support in the Hillsdale community, from fellow professors and other graduate students to former high school students who followed them to Hillsdale. Ali said freshman Emily Swartz comes over to watch their 1‑year-old son Henry.
“She was one of my high school students back in Texas and she comes over on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” she said. “It is kind of nice to have somebody we know previously to kind of help us.”
Bruno’s family lives in Connecticut, and Ali’s family is in midwestern Ohio, so their Hillsdale community has had to be a strong support system.
“That’s a lot of what compensates for the uncertainty. We have friends here that live a block away and they know Henry and we know their daughter and that makes things a little easier,” Bruno said. “Ideally I think we’d have one of our parents here.”
Bruno and Ali both said they enjoy being parents and that it’s not as difficult to balance parenting and working as people make it seem.
“I think there’s sort of this narrative of, ‘Once you have a kid it’s all over so you kind of have to go flee in that direction,’” Ali said. “But we only have 10 hours of babysitting for him a week, so I usually get up early and do my prep. I try to do a big chunk of my work between the hours of five and eight.”
Ali said her advice to young women wanting to start a family would be not to wait.
“One thing I think they don’t really tell you when you’re younger, and I really didn’t find this out until I was married and in my later twenties, is that you find out there are more and more people who have a harder time getting pregnant or maintaining pregnancy,” she said. “There’s no reason to wait. You get better with your time when you have a baby and you’re more efficient I think.”
While it’s tempting to make plans and wait for the right timing, Bruno said that there is never a perfect time.
“People are constantly waiting for the perfect situation to have a kid, but that will never exist,” he said. “Both biology and common sense suggest that you shouldn’t wait.”
“Right. When we were pregnant we didn’t know where we were going to work the next year. I still had to finish my dissertation,” Ali said. “And it helped that we have a very good support system between our family and our friends here.”
Their son Henry Cortes has become a major part of their lives and has brought them a lot of joy, as well as taught them about life, the way they view the world, and what’s important, they said
“It’s a lot of fun. He’s very entertaining,” Bruno said. “And you get a good appraisal of what kind of person you are too. It’ll become very clear whether or not you have patience or good communication skills. And it’s also kind of interesting because you get to see where human beings start off at at on a base level and see them learning to do things.”
For Ali, becoming a parent has challenged her to decide what she considers to be a good life.
“We just read in my ATP Class Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Address to Mothers,’ and he kind of criticises this notion of people who don’t have kids because they want to taste what they think are some of the finer things in life,” she said. “I see that a lot in our generation. People want to live in the big city and eat at the good restaurants. And at a certain point it’s like, ‘Is it really good for you to live for yourself like that?’”
Bruno said he agrees and that Henry has become their focus. In return, they’ve received so much more joy and many happy memories.
“We went to Paris for our honeymoon,” he said. “We’ll look at pictures of that like once every few months, but we’re constantly looking at old pictures of Henry.”