One Last Lecture with the Blackstocks: Reflections for Living Your Best Life

Written by Corinne Prost

One of the most difficult moments is turning the page that ends a great book. Most of us remember the bittersweet tightness in our chests while reading the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the gang sends their own children off to Hogwarts. There’s something about coming to the end of these good experiences that causes us to grip at our hands, knowing it’s time to let go, but still wanting to hold on to everything that made it good in the first place.

Hillsdale College experienced its own bittersweet ending: two long-standing favorite professors, Dr. and Mrs. Blackstock, retired at the end of the fall 2018 semester. Like closing a good book, the best way to ease this transition is to reminisce over all that made their time here good through their memories and words of wisdom. Forty years’ worth of reflection leaves something to be said about the character and criteria of Hillsdale’s students and human nature.

“We’ve been at this forever, and people expect us to have some great wisdom to impart on our successes and failures and facing one challenge at a time,” Dr. Blackstock mused. “There are so many good people trying to do the right thing. We are fallen, and you can’t let that knock you off the track and lose focus.”

Dr. Blackstock educates students on leadership and responsibility, while Mrs. Blackstock teaches classes that deal with quantitative material.

“Studying the quantitative teaches you to be smart about the numbers in your life and using them as tools to help make decisions,” Mrs. Blackstock explained. “In doing so, you have the ability to think intelligibly of the world around you in quantitative ways.”

On Students:
“Especially since the adoption of the Honor Code, we’re attracting the kinds of students that want growth. It’s been my sense that in recent years this desire became more focused,” Dr. Blackstock said.

Hillsdale College introduced its Honor Code in 2005 to make incoming freshmen aware of the commitment they were making while promoting self-governance. Since then, students’ awareness for cultivating virtues has become more evident.

Dr. Blackstock contextualizes his understanding of human nature through Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Scripture: “They all work with our imagination, showing what we can be and what finer humans look like. They inspire us to arrange our lives around these visions.”

Dr. Blackstock’s perspective reveals that despite the surface-level changes taking place on campus under the Honor Code, there will always be the underlying condition of people’s capacity for doing both good and bad. Even with the best intentions, people will make mistakes and can be derailed into hurting others.

However, he reminds students that these negative experiences can be used for positive outcomes. “Mistakes are great for learning. Channel from them so you learn. If you surround yourself with people of good character, you gain everything.” Dr. Blackstock explained that remedying mistakes is a four-step process: “acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, make the amends you can, and move on.”

Mrs. Blackstock added, “Move on, but onto the path that leads you to better decisions.”

On Personal Reflection:
Mrs. Blackstock hopes students will realize early on the importance of sitting down and thinking intelligently about the direction they are headed. This consistent, constant reflection is necessary for personal growth and character building, similar to the Aristotelian notion concerning habits.

“While Hillsdale students are kind and smart and ambitious and have everything they need for leading happy, proud lives, there’s a lot of things in this world they’ll have to face when they start careers and families,” Mrs. Blackstock said. “They need to give themselves time to take
stock and make sure they’re doing what they need to do in order to reach their potential.”

Students should take some time every day to think about what is truly important to them. Dr. Blackstock’s own reflections on the important things in his life inspired him to compile a list of things people never hear one another say. It’s grown in popularity amongst his many students.

“The context comes from the play All My Sons, which focuses on the story of a broken family,” he said. “The husband was a rhetorical bully, and the wife drops the line about how he yells at her to solve things. I toyed with a list of things you will never hear people say.”

Most of his students have heard him recite: “People never say they wish they hadn’t remained faithful to their wives, spent time with their kids, or set aside time for their own hobbies.”

On Significant Others:
Dr. and Mrs. Blackstock are going on over thirty years of marriage, and the two still treat each other with a very apparent kindness and reverence. They agree that one of the main reasons their marriage is lasting is because they are careful to develop interests they share with each other.

“Right now, we’re biking, and then we go back and have a beer and relax in the evening. Almost every day it’s been something,” Dr. Blackstock said. “Some research out there that marriage’s common strength is commitment, and we invest in it and give it our time.”

This mutual commitment to caring allows them to meet each other’s personal needs and concerns, which alleviates any longing that might result for a couple who aren’t looking out for each other.

“One of the most important decisions is about who you marry,” Mrs. Blackstock affirmed. “We have each other, and we genuinely like spending time with one another. The focus of our day is taking care of one another.”

The Last Point of the Last Lecture:
The Blackstocks certainly leave a legacy to be admired by all who came to know them at Hillsdale College. They have taught students more than curriculum—they empowered many generations with the wisdom for living a good life. Students learned the benefits of inevitable mistakes, the power of reflection, and the beauty in giving and receiving love. While their next step in life elicits bittersweet reflection for all who worked alongside them or studied under them at Hillsdale, turning the page of this chapter means that many experienced a great story.

Corinne Prost, 19′, is an American studies major and rhetoric minor. She dreams to one day own a library so extensive that it rivals the one from Beauty and the Beast.

Published in February 2019.