Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Class President speech, Hillsdale College

May 2007

Thank you President Arnn, trustees, platform party, distinguished faculty and deans, parents, alumni, Governor Romney. Thank you, Governor, for addressing our class.

My task here this afternoon is to plead on behalf of the class for our diplomas. If I succeed, we can walk. If I fail, we’ll have to start all over again as freshmen.

It is the significance of a Hillsdale diploma that we are more than alumni of a college. We are the inheritors of an experiment. It is an experiment in self-government, testing the capacity of men and women to love and serve and worship without the rule of a tyrant. Our generation was born at the end of a bloody century when the tyranny of ideology had supplanted the idea that man is made in the image of God.

But we, the Class of 2007, will not give up on that idea. We cannot forget the mighty truths we have learned here.

We should thank God every day for Hillsdale College. I will fall short of the task my class has entrusted to me, of expressing thanks. We will find more lasting ways to show our gratitude in the years to come. 

To President Arnn—you are the custodian of an old mission, and you have been faithful to your duty. You have defended the college’s independence, rallied its friends, and reminded us at every opportunity that we came here to study. You taught us leadership by example and by conversation: that statesmanship and scholarship are inseparable, that serious leaders cannot take themselves too seriously, and that greatness begins with goodness. Because of your leadership, this campus looks very different than it did four years ago—among other things, Kresge stands no more.

You often say that the founders of the college were the greatest men who ever worked here, and you would correct me if I suggested that anyone could be compared with them. So I won’t do that. I will say this: there could be no higher honor to the men who founded this college than the man who leads it today.

We are grateful to the hundreds of people who work at Hillsdale who make it operate—people like Steve Casai at Curtis Dining Hall who taught us diligence, or Linda Solomon at the front desk in Central Hall, who taught us friendliness, and Nancy Ryan, who is retiring from the Provost’s Office, who taught us prudence. Behind the scenes, extraordinary people have served us all. 

To our professors, who asked us ultimate questions about God and man, who guided us through the greatest books ever written, who taught us that we are heirs of a great tradition, who have shown us our place in the order of existence--you have inspired us to wonder at the blessings of life. I should mention particularly Dr. David Paas, our Professor of the Year, and Professor Mark Watson, who is retiring after forty years of teaching mathematics.

And to our parents, this day is yours. Though we have been imperfect sons and daughters, may this day be some small compensation for your devotion. Since the days when you first taught us to walk and to talk, you have been the guardians of hope for a nation. We said goodbye on this very lawn four years ago. When we greet you today, you will see that we have grown up.

When I was four years old, I cried to my mom that I desperately wanted to go to college. Well, mom, if I can persuade President Arnn to let us walk, we might even come away with diplomas.  

Today a new generation of leaders is waiting at the commencement platform. The task at hand is nothing less than the defense of truth in the midst of falsehood, of goodness in the midst of sin, and of beauty in the midst of death. In this we may not succeed; we may have the privilege to fail in defense of the highest things.

Tolkien wrote that “it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

It is not for us to change a broken world. But we may go home to our own little corners of the country, to tap the awesome possibilities of simple things, to give and to sacrifice, to redeem the time. I have been inspired by many of my classmates who will be leaders in their careers and in their communities, and yet their highest ambition is to be moms and dads. And of course, we will send our kids to Hillsdale College.

And when in the midst of the years we pause to reflect on the path, our hearts will come back to Hillsdale. The friendships that began here will last long after we part ways this evening; together, we must make our way into a world of comedy and tragedy where real men and women are badly needed. We must stick closely together. We must be witnesses that as Whittaker Chambers wrote, there is “a reason to live and a reason to die.”

And so to us, this ceremony is not a completion. It is a challenge. It is a call that will echo through this century and through our lives, to live and die well. And when we are here for our last reunion, we may know by experience better than we know today by aspiration what is meant by the college motto: virtus tentamine gaudet: “Strength rejoices in the challenge.” For now, President Arnn, teachers, beloved parents: we accept the challenge. (Thank you.)


It is traditional for the senior class to give a gift to the college. This year we will give two. First, we will dedicate a flag pole outside the new Grewcock Student Union. That flag means something at Hillsdale College. Here we have learned to love our country—to celebrate its foundations, to remember its successes and its failures, and to serve when called. On September 11, most of us were high school juniors; it was the lesson of that day that each generation must rise to the defense of liberty.

One of our classmates, Rachel Somogie, will leave for service in Iraq next week. Rachel is senior airman with the 927th Security Forces Squadron, and she volunteered to spend three and a half months at Kirkuk Air Base in Northern Iraq. She represents the best of our class. Rachel, our prayers are with you. Would you please join me in acknowledging Rachel Somogie?

Service is an old Hillsdale tradition. Three Congressional Medal of Honor winners are among the 500 Hillsdale men who fought in the Civil War. One of them was Moses Luce, who would have graduated with the Class of 1865. But because he sacrificed a year of his education, he graduated in 1866. His Congressional Medal of Honor had this for a citation:

“Voluntarily returned in the face of the advancing enemy to the assistance of a wounded and helpless comrade, and carried him, at imminent peril, to a place of safety.”

That wounded and helpless comrade was a fellow Hillsdale College student.

Our class decided to give our other class gift as a scholarship to a classmate who sacrificed a year of his college education to serve in a foreign war. We are calling this scholarship the Moses Luce Award for Military Service. Instead of walking today, biology major Aaron Hummel will graduate next year.

Lance Corporal Aaron Hummel left Hillsdale a year ago to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, with the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines Charlie Company. He patrolled the streets of Fallujah. He was shot at by snipers. Twenty-two men in his regiment were killed. Forty-five men with serious wounds were evacuated. Some were blown up by bombs. They didn’t eat much. They didn’t sleep much.

When our Vice President Lauren Clark and the other officers put out the appeal for our class gift, seniors, parents, and college supporters responded generously, and we far exceeded our goal of $2,007. Aaron will be receiving a scholarship of $6,782. He’s a humble guy; he told me that we should give the award to somebody else, but it is Aaron who served. It is Aaron Hummel, U.S. Marine, who deserves the highest honors this class can give.

Would the Class of 2007 join me in welcoming home a classmate and a hero—Lance Corporal Aaron Hummel.