What is the Freshman Pledge?
Written by Josh Paladino
As an incoming student to Hillsdale College, the freshman pledge was a commitment to principles I already understood to be a crucial part of a liberal arts education. Hillsdale freshmen come to college with educational and moral standards already set in their lives. The freshman pledge does not contain concepts that are foreign to incoming students, and it is not for the sake of keeping students in line; it serves a greater purpose.
Having come to learn, we are proud to do so with integrity and will conduct ourselves with exemplary honor.
This pledge elevates the values, which Hillsdale freshmen already cherish, as more than a means to an end; they become an end in themselves: to “conduct ourselves with exemplary honor…pledge ourselves to the pursuit of truth, the love of the good, and the cultivation of the beauty.” These ideas do not simply make learning more productive and honorable; they are the highest goal of education.
As a freshman entering Hillsdale, I was not surprised to promise myself to “diligent study.” However, I now admire the beauty and refinement that “patient reflection” provides. Countless hours were spent during the first year of college to examine the implications that, for example, one sentence of Aristotle’s writing has on politics, economics, philosophy, history, religion, and other areas of study. The truly remarkable part is that those discussions were not for the sake of an assignment, but merely to be shared over dinner with friends for the purpose of enhancing individual knowledge. The thorough and honest contemplation of ideas challenges deeply held beliefs and leads to consistency of thought and philosophy. Nobody enjoys realizing that their conceptions of the world are contradictory, but truth and consistent thought are remarkable pleasures.
We, the students of Hillsdale College, commit ourselves to diligent study and patient reflection.
The second sentence of the pledge introduces integrity and honor. My philosophy on these principles changed greatly through my first year at college. Integrity means much more than not cheating on a test, and honor is deeper than giving and receiving respect. Integrity requires dedication to an individual’s moral principles, not for the good of others, although that occurs simultaneously, but for the well-being of the soul. A failure to live by the values given to me by my God and family is a lack of integrity; not because I violated a pledge, but because I disobeyed what I hold as truth. I learned that honor is the manifestation of integrity; it cannot be given based on title or position. Students should honor teachers based on their integrity; in a similar way professors should honor their pupils. Honor shows the purest form of respect for the individuality of another person; it holds that the fellow man possesses free will and has used it for noble purposes.
The third line says, “As sacrifices past and present make possible our education, we too become stewards of this College for the generations yet to come.” The United States has fostered an environment where educational choices have been made by individuals and local communities for generations. Hillsdale fought for its independence by refusing to take federal and state funds. This is what keeps Hillsdale College uniquely unwavering in its principles. Whether Hillsdale fights alongside the government (or against it, when it turns from principles of freedom), Hillsdale always stands up for liberal arts education.
The last phrase I desire to address is the end of the fourth line, which states, “for the sake of our minds and hearts and for an ennobled society.” Honor, integrity, truth, and beauty all serve to enhance the mind and heart. However, only when individuals seek these things within their own lives can a good society be established. This entails a call to self-government. When individuals act based on the highest moral principles for the good of themselves, they benefit themselves and society. Within society, individual liberty and personal responsibility are the end goals of a liberal arts education. They allow for the establishment of a free-government that respects life, liberty, and property. This society allows people to act freely based upon their own faculties and within their own sphere of available actions. Free society provides the perfect environment for individuals to thrive and to seek the good in their lives.
In the time I have committed to the liberal arts education that Hillsdale College provides, I have begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge that is available. The freshman pledge was the beginning of my search for truth, goodness, and the most beautiful of what life has to offer.
Josh Paladino is in the Class of 2018 at Hillsdale College.