Beyond the Gate
Written by Chandler Ryd
I barely remember taking the Freshman Pledge during the Convocation ceremony at the beginning of the year. I do, however, remember the Convocation addresses given by seniors Morgan Delp and Matthew O’Sullivan. They spoke glowingly of Hillsdale, saying it was something special, sharing the types of guaranteed-to-please happy memories that one would expect to hear at an event attended by new students and parents, but nonetheless speaking earnestly and without any sentimental fluff.
Sitting in the audience and hearing their stories, I was like a child peering curiously through the gate of an old, mysterious garden, wondering what flowers, trees, and vegetables might be growing inside. The Freshmen Pledge was the gate. And like most gates, front doors, or thresholds, the Freshmen Pledge was almost entirely unnoticed—I was looking in at Hillsdale beyond the gate, and initially, I barely gave this gate a second glance as it opened to let me inside.
Morgan and Matt talked about their personal encounters with the transcendental trinity of truth, beauty, and goodness. They were sharing their experiences from inside the garden, and it was these moments where the ideals of the Freshmen Pledge became startlingly tangible—an “aha!” moment of discovery—like when a professor explained something true and it finally resonated, or when Homer’s poetry seemed beautiful at last after reading The Odyssey a second time.
I had a similar moment in the library. Being an English nerd, I had picked up the habit of perusing the shelves of the periodicals section to keep up on modern literature, and one day I stumbled across an essay about the majesty of the mountains. Being from Colorado, the essay struck deep in my heart, and I read it and reread it, silently smiling and inwardly whooping at how close the author came to describing what I had always felt at home. I was in the garden, playing.
These moments are things that could happen on any college campus, but the astounding thing is that every student here experiences them. Everyone who has graduated from Hillsdale has been imbued with the liberal arts virtues and a similar child-like wonder at the world, like peering into a secret garden.
And it’s not just the students who share the wonder: it’s in the professors and administration as well. There’s hardly a thing happening on campus without some high flown reason or another to back it up, even the mundane things, even a formality like the Freshmen Pledge. What’s interesting is that the College really takes the pledge seriously while other schools let similar ceremonies lay hollow.
Even though I didn’t see the pledge as important at the time, reading it now, I’m sold. I’m a sucker for lofty ideals, and if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be going to Hillsdale. The opening line, “We, the students of Hillsdale College,” is a nostalgic tug at the preamble to our nation’s Constitution. It later refers to students being “stewards” of the College, because our treatment of it, both now and after graduation, matters in its success or failure. And as for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? My heart sings at those three words. Phrases like “ennobled society” and “high calling” are the same sorts of phrases that have started revolutions and established governments. Some freshmen may think that we take this pledge too seriously, but they’re missing the point. Taking this pledge helps ensure that we take our studies seriously enough. That’s why it’s a gate–you can only enter this garden if you respect it, care for it, and plant something new. The pledge may seem forgettable on its own, but when the garden beyond the gate is a beautiful as our school, the gate itself holds the key to the garden’s beauty.
Novelist, filmmaker, and resident root-beer snob, Chandler Ryd, ’18, is the president of the Creative Writing Club. He studies English in his free time. You can usually find him in the periodicals section of the library.