Students studying in the library

The Weight of Education

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

“The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years

During the 2018 Arnold Classic, a worldwide strongman competition, a young Pole named Mateusz Kieliszkowski lifted a 410-pound rock to his shoulder four times in succession. No one else in the field was able to repeat the feat more than once. Part of the rock-to-shoulder challenge is that nobody knows whether the rock is actually liftable. The shape, dimensions, and material present an objective that is as unique as it is strenuous. In order to lift such a rock, one must have an incredible amount of mental fortitude and grit.

I think about that moment in the Arnold Classic a lot when I leave my 11:00 class in Lane Hall and head toward the student union for lunch. As I leave the building, a stone cube rests in the lawn with the words “prove it” inscribed on the top. In 1874, Hillsdale College, which was at the time just one main building, burned entirely down, leaving the students with no apparent place to do their work. The senior class gift of 1875 was this rock, proving the tenacity of a student body determined to learn despite the circumstances.

Across the lawn in front of Central Hall there are several other rocks of various shapes and sizes. Each with a date inscribed on it. 1875. 1874. 1873. One from the 1860s. Each one has been dragged up out of the depths of nearby Lake Baw Beese and set firmly on the lawn at Hillsdale. Four hundred and ten pounds? Maybe, maybe not, but what they represent remains the same. Hillsdale students do not shy away from the weighty and the challenging in the world.

Now, you might expect an easy roll-out here of our motto: “Strength rejoices in the challenge,” but instead, I have a question. What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever physically lifted? Perhaps you are an athlete and push those limits daily, realizing the amazing power of your own limbs. What about mentally? Deep in the throes of an intense chess game, have you recognized how many different combinations and sequences came together to place you in that unique position on the board? Spiritually? What is that question you’ve been secretly rolling around in your head these last few years?

If there is something unifying to the human experience, it is the overwhelming weight of questions. We all lift them out of bed with us every morning and drag them with us to sleep at night. Here at Hillsdale, we lift these rocks together, whether that be dragging them out of Baw Beese or around the lunch table. And yes, this is a joyful thing, but more accurately, a joy tempered by the grit of carrying these questions with us as we go. Together we “prove” much more than simply the value of a liberal arts education. The questions we carry prove that we are trying to live out the human experience in the only way we can: honestly, and with a little bit of grit mixed in.

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