Liberal Arts and Politics in the “Real World”
Written by Katazyna Ignatik
Before Elliot Gaiser graduated from Hillsdale in 2012, he competed on the debate team, wrote for the College newspaper, led the business club Enactus, played cello in the orchestra, presided over College Republicans, and learned to play bagpipes. He double-majored in political economy and speech because he didn’t want to choose among his favorite professors from different disciplines.
Elliot pursued all of these things because he followed what he loved to do. Now he works in Washington, D.C., for the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In light of this new work, Elliot looks back on his various experiences at Hillsdale with satisfaction and gratitude.
“I spent a lot of hours in the Heritage Room, Mossey Library, the student union, reading things that at the time seemed divorced from previous and professional experience,” Elliot says. “The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized that those things I read actually prepared me in more practical ways than if I’d actually been looking for job skills.”
Elliot’s specific experience with law and government started in college when he became involved in College Republicans, eventually becoming the president of the campus organization. While in College Republicans, Elliot organized local political activity, rewrote the club’s constitution, and even brought a presidential candidate to speak at Hillsdale. The organization helped him make the practical transition of putting lessons into practice.
“College Republicans taught me how to take principles I was learning in classes and translate them into daily action when it doesn’t seem like there’s a good option,” Elliot says. “If there’s a disagreement on the student board, maybe the problem isn’t the students. Maybe it’s the structure of the board. Maybe there’s a mutually beneficial third way. Principles help you to be creative; the liberal arts help you to be creative.”
Elliot’s Hillsdale background also helped him in graduate studies. At first he was nervous about law school, but then found it to be comparatively easy after the challenges of Hillsdale.
“Grappling with the classics is harder than finding the derivatives constituting law,” Elliot says.
After graduating from law school at the University of Chicago, Elliot had the opportunity to work as a one-term clerk under Judge Edith Jones in Houston, Texas, “getting to see the meat-and-potatoes work of law,” as he says. He transitioned into his current job in D.C. this past summer.
One aspect of the real world Elliot has paid attention to is the ambitiousness of people in both Hillsdale and the outside political world.
“Hillsdale has a lot of people who want to go on to change the world,” Elliot says. “People who study great things, hard things, who want to make those principles real and sustain them in the world. Lots of people come to D.C. with that purpose.”
But working for the law in D.C. is a different experience from working at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
“So many people who live and come to Washington have their own personal edification looming large over any public spirit,” he says. “People in Hillsdale usually have reasons outside themselves for being brave, ambitious, bold.”
Elliot wishes that students and graduates would take these ambitions and make them practical without discarding their principles.
“Make abstract things tangible things,” he says. “Don’t shy away from finding and falling in love with what you’re studying, and finding some way to do that in the community. Take those things you’re learning, fall in love with them, and dance with them in the real world.”
Katarzyna Ignatik is an English major in the class of 2020. She spends her time doing homework (of course), binge-reading, binge-writing, singing, and laughing at everything and anything. Talk to her about Tolkien, the 50s, or abstract philosophical concepts, and she’ll be perfectly happy.