About the Commencement Address
Delivered by Roger Scruton, May 2012
Nearly 4,000 people spread across the East Lawn on a cloudy May afternoon as Hillsdale’s largest graduating class to date—358 seniors—celebrated not only the completion of their undergraduate studies, but also the journey they have undertaken over the last four years. Despite rain showers looming to the north, dry skies prevailed over campus as the college community reflected on the enduring tradition of liberal arts education.
President Larry P. Arnn commented on the size of the senior class and the audience, but reaffirmed that in spite of the growth of the student body, “we at Hillsdale are community; we are close.” He continued with examples of the achievements of the seniors—from the volleyball team’s Final Four appearance, to the football team’s conference championship, to national honors for the debate team and classics honorary. “The spirit of these seniors is magnificent,” he said. “They are not afraid to ask for what they want, either,” he added, citing how the class officers showed him a YouTube video of commencement speaker Roger Scruton and urged Arnn to invite him to campus.
Clearly, those seniors knew they had found a kindred spirit in Scruton, who spoke eloquently on the importance of a liberal arts education. Scruton, a visiting professor of philosophy at the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, praised Hillsdale for its adherence to academic freedom and integrity, something sorely missing at European institutions as the “long arm of the state” becomes increasingly involved in higher education. Liberal arts colleges, he asserted, preserve and pass on knowledge as opposed to ideology, “pseudo subjects,” or what is considered “relevant” at the moment. He urged the graduates not to be discouraged by those who question the practicality of a particular major. “Knowledge becomes useful unpredictably,” he said. “What is relevant changes, whereas knowledge is constant.” He cited the classical education of America’s Founders. The knowledge they possessed of ancient history and languages gave rise to the birth of a nation and the U.S. Constitution. Beyond career practicality, however, Scruton noted that a liberal arts education with study in the humanities provides one with a moral compass in addition to an intellectual one. “Moral knowledge helps one distinguish between ideology and true scholarship,” Scruton said.
Dr. Arnn then presented Scruton with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Two other couples received honorary doctor of public service degrees. Lawrence and Valerie Bullen of Jackson have supported Hillsdale through the Weatherwax Foundation, of which Mr. Bullen is chairman. Through the Foundation, they have provided funding for the Women Commissioners Chair in Botany, the Dow Science Center, Howard Music Hall, the Kirby Center, and most recently, a challenge grant for Hillsdale Academy scholarships. Howard and Jan Hendler of Phoenix, Arizona, are Life Members of The President’s Club and have named Hillsdale in a bequest that will establish the Jan and Howard Hendler Scholarship Fund. Dr. Arnn also acknowledged Dawn Tibbetts Potter, who, although she could not attend the ceremony, also received a honorary doctor of public service degree. Mrs. Potter has made a bequest to Hillsdale to provide funding for the Kirby Center, an endowed professorship, and a scholarship for Ph.D. students in the Graduate School of Statemanship.
Senior class president Dina Farhat spoke on behalf of the graduates. While she recalled the many “lasts” they had experienced over the past few weeks, she also reflected on her first day on campus as a freshman. She remembered how Dr. Arnn had told the parents at freshman convocation that their newly enrolled children would one day talk about wanting to go home, but “home” would now be Hillsdale College. “How could Hillsdale ever be considered my home?” Farhat had thought. Four years later, however, she realized that Hillsdale had indeed become home to her and her classmates. “Over these four years, friends have become family, professors have welcomed us into their homes, and we’ve learned that strength really does rejoice in the challenge,” she said.
Following the conferring of degrees, Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Brodbeck offered his congratulations and echoed Farhat’s sentiments: “I hope you will return often to Hillsdale College, your home.”