The Land & Literature of England: A Discovery of Intellectual Humility

Written By Zachary Palmer

The time was 9:00 a.m. A rather spacious meeting room situated in our hotel in London, England, was filled with students, myself included, eager to receive essays back from beloved professor Dr. David Whalen. As per usual, he entered the space briskly with his dark suitcase, but I noticed immediately that, unlike other occasions, Dr. Whalen appeared stern, his famous jolly grin replaced by pure seriousness. I was apparently not the only student who noticed this, and a hush quickly fell over us.

Dr. Whalen set down his briefcase and looked at us for several moments. Then he spoke, and I paraphrase:

Today you will be faced with the truth regarding your abilities as a writer for college. Some of you will be disappointed, others content, but no matter the case, you are here to learn.

As I have reflected upon Dr. Whalen’s words for three years, I realize how different I would be if I had not heard his wisdom. In those moments I came to the precipice between my pride and reality. I had been introduced to one of the most critical aspects of true education: intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility is the understanding that you do not know much, if anything at all, and that you have much more to learn from others who do know something.

I learned from Dr. Whalen that my writing was, quite frankly, not very good. It was unrefined, its rhetoric poor, and my sentences lacking the grace and beauty of their well-crafted counterparts. I did not want to hear that; I still do not want to hear that, but I accepted it and I learned.

I regard the Land and Literature trip as one of the most impactful moments of my life primarily for the above reasons, but also for other equally important ones. For instance, I met wonderful people, many of which are good friends of mine and others I still remain in contact with. These individuals challenged me to rethink my ideas and conceptions of the texts while also adding a beautiful dose of energy into the experience.

Likewise, the trip itself was one of a kind. From the lectures at Hillsdale to walking the streets of Stratford to watching Measure for Measure in the Globe Theater to reading in the gardens of Magdalen College, the trip was extraordinary. Yet beyond the iconic courtyard of Trinity College, my mind returns to the lessons that remain with me to this day.

I had approached the trip from the standpoint of reading, walking through historically interesting places, and returning home content and excited after completing such a unique opportunity. The reality of intellectual humility shattered this fantasy. Selah, David’s forceful command to readers to stop, reread, and contemplate, is applicable here.

I can safely say that if God did not place Dr. Whalen and that trip in my life, I would still be sauntering down the path I was traveling as a junior in high school. My writing would not have improved, and my intellect would have remained proud. Yet because of that trip, because of Dr. Whalen, I was introduced to true learning, and although the truth often hurts, the effects upon my life have been beautiful and for the good.

Zachary Palmer, ’20, is a Hillsdale student.