It’s the Little Things

Written by Lauren Smyth

“Honorable in conduct.” “Dutiful in study and service.” “[Rising] to self-government.” These phrases, drawn from the Hillsdale College Honor Code, are formally acknowledged by every Hillsdale student at the beginning of their college careers. We sign our names to a sheet of expensive paper, write the date at the bottom of the page, and try our best to keep this enormous promise.

But what does it mean to be honorable, dutiful, and self-governing? At Hillsdale, the little acts of service stand out—the very little ones, the kind that aren’t expected and often get overlooked.

Consider, for example, the coffee line. If you’re waiting to order, it’s safe to assume that you haven’t had your daily morning-class-survival-juice yet. As a college student, that’s a serious deprivation. It gives you every right to be in a bad mood. That’s especially true if you’re running between classes and only have five minutes or so to swipe your card, acquire your honey-lavender-oat-milk latte, and sprint to the next building.

It’s just past noon on a chilly winter Tuesday. Students are rushing through the hallways, bumping into each other, apologizing, and heading out into the bitter wind to get lunch or go to class. The inevitable queue is forming in front of the coffee bar. A few people squeeze through to reach the cooler. It’s loud, and sound echoes off the tile floor. People are chatting, raising their voices so they can hear each other.

The barista is looking frazzled. She’s facing the lunch rush alone today, since she was the only one available to take the shift. She’s working as hard and as quickly as she can, but the line is piling up, streaming into the hallway and blocking the stairwell. Some people are starting to look anxious. They’ve got places to be, as every college student does, and they’re wondering: How long is this going to take?

Somebody near the front of the line speaks up: “Does anyone have to get to class? You can go in front of me.” She steps, making room for two relieved and grateful students to reach the cash register.

“I’ll ring them up.” Another student, Kendra Showalter, ’25, gives up her place in line and steps behind the counter. She’s not on duty today, and she won’t get paid for what she’s about to do, but she sees her coworker struggling and doesn’t hesitate to help. The barista gladly lets her take over the register while she turns to making drinks. Honey-lavender-oat-milk latte, here we come.

With Kendra’s help, the line cleared. Students got their caffeine and went on with their days. The whole incident lasted less than ten minutes, but it showed Hillsdale at its best. It showed students who look out for each other, who are considerate of their classmates, who go out of their way to solve problems and better the lives of those around them.

That, and countless other incidents like it, is how Hillsdale College students keep the promise they made on their first day of class. “Self-government,” says the Honor Code, “is a challenge with the promise of a rich reward: liberty of the soul.” Students here are blessed to earn that liberty through a life of service and a deep, daily commitment to the principles that guide this college.

Lauren Smyth, ’25, is a prospective political economy major and French minor. Outside of starting arguments in philosophy class, she enjoys curling up on a bench outdoors (sun, rain, or snow) to write novels or articles for her blog,

Published in May 2023