Knorr Dining Hall

Taking Chances to Change: A Reflection on My Time at Hillsdale

Written by Nolan Ryan

Opportunity may not be a lengthy visitor, but it certainly is a frequent one. It took me a year at college to realize this truth.

When I came to Hillsdale, I knew it would be an academically rigorous place to study. I looked forward to this because I believed it would push me to do great things. I realize now how short-sighted my goals were.

Between preparing for internships as a student and job opportunities as a future member of the workforce, I paid far too little attention to the equally important opportunities I had every day to become a better person and help others toward the same goal. I had no idea how formative it would be to seek out these supposedly more mundane chances for personal growth.

Certainly, it’s not necessarily bad to want to achieve greatness, but there is so much more to life. It’s fascinating and even a little off-putting to see how quickly humans can change in such a short time as a year.

I worried before I arrived at Hillsdale about whether I would fit into the community here. Was the student culture for me? Was I going to establish meaningful friendships? It only took a couple of days after arriving on campus to realize that, yes, this was the place I was meant to be. The student community and culture was a good fit for my personality. The friends I made during freshman year had similar values, but a diversity of tastes, goals, and opinions. I found friends who were genuinely excited to talk about theology and literature, two subjects for which I have a deep fondness. We carried our conversations outside of the classroom, sometimes having deep discussions, sometimes just taking a break from homework to hang out. We found good discussion because of different opinions. Through these differences, however, I found a distinctive similarity: my friends were looking for mutual encouragement to be better academically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Personal growth, I realized, is not about what I can get out of a relationship with a friend. There is something to be said for the time and encouragement your friends pour into you. But personal growth requires that you also pour that same time and encouragement into your friends. Any human relationship is a two-way street.

In order to begin pouring into people, we must recognize the myriad opportunities we have to encourage our fellow students. So that we might change for the better, we need to take chances on other people. Sometimes that means going the extra mile to help a friend with his biology homework. Sometimes it just means getting her a coffee at AJ’s and letting her talk to you.

Whatever the case may be, taking chances on building friendships at Hillsdale has been just as rewarding an experience as learning from my professors, and not in a very different way. I have been able to learn sympathy for friends in difficult situations. Establishing relationships has allowed me to show empathy to others when I can relate to their difficulties.

These human connections are prevalent at Hillsdale because of the people who are here. Personal growth is not just something that happens in the classroom. It happens every day, among friends, in the most unlikely places.


Nolan RyanNolan Ryan, ‘20, is an English major and journalism minor from northern Michigan. Mention theology, C.S. Lewis, or Broadway musicals to him if you want to have a long conversation on those topics. In the midst of his studies, he occasionally finds time to pursue his love of poetry, ’50s music, and good coffee.


Published in February 2019