Students eating in dining hall

Hillsdale’s Own Heorot

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

“No group ever gathered in greater numbers
or better order around their ring-giver.
The benches filled with famous men
who fell to with relish; round upon round
of mead was passed; those powerful kinsmen,
Hrothgar and Hrothulf, were in high spirits
in the raftered hall. Inside Heorot
there was nothing but friendship.”

There is a notion that modern academia is so fast paced and scheduled that students don’t take time to simply stop and talk about things that are on each other’s minds. The general narrative laments that students simply come to college, get their degrees, and get out to their careers. Education seems increasingly like a task to accomplish rather than a way of life to be lived. Why can’t students just sit and form powerful intellectual friendships like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien? Where has the leisure gone from our colleges and universities? Oh ye of little faith! I tell you to look no further than Hillsdale’s own Heorot: The Dining Hall. Manned by hardworking cooks from Bon Appetit, the dining hall is the place to go if you are looking for leisure in the academic world. Professors, students, campus security, even college families and their children roll through from time to time. Chatter and feasting resound from the early morning till late evening as the community of learners at Hillsdale becomes most apparent.

A brief literary vignette if you will allow my English major to peek through for a moment: Heorot is Hrothgar’s great hall in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Wondrously arrayed for the greatest of feasting and fellowship, the mead hall was the center of Anglo-Saxon culture as the place where weapons were replaced with feasting and gift giving. Indeed, Heorot, along with many other famous feast halls in literature—the Round Table at Camelot and Odysseus’s hall in Ithaka, to name two—serves as the very thing that protects society from the outbreak of war and chaos. As a brief respite from the turmoil of the world, “Inside Heorot there [is] nothing but friendship.”
Hillsdale’s own dining hall, while perhaps not as well known as the Round Table or Heorot, achieves the same effect on the life of the school. In the quiet mornings before eight or nine o’clock classes, students talk peacefully about the plans of the day or meet to discuss the upcoming test, Bible study, or dorm event. Some students meet early to catch up on life with some coffee. At lunch, students and professors come in waves as they bustle to and from classes, making sure to stop and relax for a while before the next event. Then at dinner the hall is filled with the excited chatter that always comes at the end of another day of hard work.

A highlight from my own experience: I recently sat down at a table with Drs. Bart and Jordan from the English department. Before too long we got to talking about the weather in our home states. I had expected them to be talking about some deep literary concepts but was surprised to find that they were simply interested in sharing stories over a relaxing meal. I did not feel out of place but in fact welcomed at this table. Eventually we rose to go our separate ways, but not until our stories had properly been exchanged.
This kind of fellowship is a typical occurrence in our dining hall. Students, professors, and house moms (yes, you should sit at their table; they would love to talk to you), all sharing their lives with one another. And just like Heorot, without this aspect of our life as a College, the very institution would collapse with nothing to hold our community together.

Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.

Published in April 2019