Travel with New Friends, American History, and Giving Hillsdale a Chance

I hardly knew anything about Hillsdale College before I had the opportunity to become a student in the Roots and History of American Liberty High School Summer Travel Course. I had already visited a few other colleges as a prospective student and had some general interest in a number of them, but I was not particularly excited about any one place. My parents signed me up for the trip, believing it would be a good experience for me, given my prior interest in history, and asked me to give Hillsdale a chance. I’m so glad they did. During the two weeks of the summer program—which were spent in Hillsdale, Michigan, Gettysburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.—I fell in love with Hillsdale and became totally convinced that I wanted to become a Hillsdale undergraduate student.

Our course began with a couple of days in Hillsdale, staying in the dorms, taking part in class lectures, and getting to know the campus, and then we traveled to Gettysburg to see the Civil War battlefield for ourselves. After a couple of days there, and a stop to Philadelphia, we headed to Hillsdale’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in the nation’s capital. This was our home base for the remainder of the trip, and from where we also enjoyed visits to Jefferson’s Monticello, Washington’s Mount Vernon, and many national monuments and museums. We benefitted from plenty of time to explore Washington on our own and to just hang out with the other students as well.

The sites of our travels were certainly interesting, but it was the professors and my peers that really convinced me of how special Hillsdale is. Dr. Birzer and Dr. Moreno lectured in a way that was totally new to me, not simply stating the facts of American history, but giving context about why those facts mattered. Their love for their subject was obvious and infectious. What made the lectures even more intriguing was that I was not the only student who was interested in what the professors had to say. The students I was spending time with were both knowledgeable and engaged, and they asked intelligent questions that led to amazing and memorable discussions. I was worried at first the other students might be thought-provoking in the classroom but less fun outside of it, but my worry was quickly and happily disabused. Our evening discussions were intellectual, but also a great time. We had as much fun debating deep religious questions as we did playing a simple game of cards. In only a couple of weeks, I built strong friendships with many of the people on the trip, and I was convinced that I wanted to spend my college years with people just like them. These were people who cared about the same things that I cared about, and wanted to come to a place where they could grow as whole people, not just receive training for a job

Now that I’m a Hillsdale student, I’m still friends with many of the students I met on my high school trip to Washington: turns out more than half of them were convinced of the same thing I was, and I’m still so thankful that I had this opportunity to experience Hillsdale College for the first time.


Robert McClelland is a student of economics and history from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He plays for the Hillsdale Hockey Club.