“Dr. Pilon, thank you so much for having me for the WAPONS program this summer. It was quite an excellent experience and definitely has me looking forward to moving to Washington for my career. Speaking of which, I will be back in Washington at least twice over the upcoming academic year, perhaps more if I am requested for job interviews. It would be great to catch up then if at all possible, and I could collect my certificate at the time as well. As to the program, I cannot think of much that would make it any better. If the majority of students chosen are those whose majors are on the fringes of national security, and as such may have little experience in national security, such as economics or American history, it may have been more beneficial for them to have more experts speak to these roles in their organizations. For example, it would be interesting to hear how a history major might be of value to the FBI or an economist in the Treasury Department working with the CIA to hunt terrorists. For me, however, I thought the program was highly informative, as I learned about the workings of the TSA and Think Tanks, which are areas that are of interest to me and ones I have not considered looking in to in so much detail. I got to hear from several extremely informed and credentialed people as to these roles and it was quite an interesting experience. I will certainly be taking back what I have learned for our student organization and department heads, as they are topics that are often passed over. Next year, if the speakers are different enough and my schedule permits I would love to come back. I really appreciate your efforts in organizing it all, and please pass my gratitude along to the other fellows of AHI. I hope to see you again in a few months, and thank you again!”
Mason Goad, University of North Georgia
“While I like to think that Hamilton College stood out against the myriad of small liberal arts schools that I visited as a teenager, there is little doubt in my mind that the Alexander Hamilton Institute played a central role in drawing me to Clinton, NY. Although I was interested in politics, government, and history as a high school student, I had yet to contemplate the issue of discourse and diversity of thought on college campuses prior to my matriculation on the Hill. Today, I see this as one of the defining issues shaping the next generation of our country’s leaders, but, as a high school student wandering the idyllic campuses of Northeastern liberal arts colleges, I only knew that something felt ‘off.’
I was accustomed, of course, to racial diversity in the classroom, having attended a working-class high school in suburban Massachusetts, and I did see this reflected in the students and faculty that I encountered on my campus visits. But something more subtle was missing. I was used to a high school where the children – and therefore the ideas – of middle-class Republicans, working-class Democrats, progressive professionals, and every other combination thereof all mixed and mingled. But here, on these grassy knolls and tree-lined quads of America’s finest liberal arts institutions, the ideas all seemed to be the same.
The bulletin boards in the pillared academic halls and Brutalist cement libraries seemed to universally advertise events featuring the likes of feminist and post-Marxist thinkers likes Angela Davis and Cornell West, but academic talks by anyone who could be even mildly construed as having a conservative or free market agenda were few and far between. As someone who spent my high school days reading National Review and watching online recordings of Milton Friedman lectures, I was rather disappointed that my vision of collegiate academic exploration was apparently so inaccurate.
Hamilton College stood out as an exception amongst these monolithic campuses thanks, in large part, to the work of a dedicated group of men and women down in the yellow Federalist building at the bottom of the hill. At the time of my matriculation to the college, I was not aware of the rather disconcerting history that led to AHI’s picturesque off-campus location. Fortunately, the one-and-a-half rather steep miles in between the college and the Clinton town green had little effect in limiting the academic reach of AHI, and the Institute succeeded in bringing intellectual diversity to events both on and off the Hill. It was, as one AHI student alumnus rather famously put it, not a ‘safe space’ where ideas and perspectives were immune from challenge, but a place of rigorous discourse where dialogue was treated as an intellectual tool rather than a cliché.
While it took me far too many of my undergraduate years realize the physical space of AHI for the unique resource that it truly was, the people of AHI had a profound impact on my time at Hamilton from my very first days on campus. Professor Alfred Kelly taught me during my freshman fall semester just how much my writing could (and should) be improved, while Professor Maurice Isserman reminded me during the subsequent spring semester that I still had a long way to go. Both men, I am certain, had a far greater impact on my development as a student than they will ever know. The beauty of AHI, of course, was that thought-provoking discussion wasn’t limited to the classroom – Professor Doug Ambrose and AHI Resident Fellow David Frisk both excelled in creating an atmosphere at AHI that facilitated these moments of extracurricular profundity.
Few Hamilton professors, though, had as substantial an impact on my experience in college as Robert Paquette. Although I never had occasion to sit in one of his classes (not majoring in history is one of my few regrets from college), Professor Paquette’s influence on my intellectual experience was apparent during just about every semester that I was at Hamilton. By bringing speakers to campus who could engage with provocative ideas and elicit discourse to a degree that unsettled the campus thought-bubble, Professor Paquette’s work had the effect of spurring discussion in the classrooms of the very faculty members who had fought so hard to push the AHI off the Hill. I eagerly anticipated the challenge of driving classroom discussions beyond the ad hominem and into the deeper issues that these visiting speakers raised. While sensibilities on college campuses today seem to be more fragile than ever, for my four year at Hamilton, AHI was perhaps my greatest asset in finding discussion that could transcend the ubiquitous echo chamber of academic groupthink.
As an alumnus of AHI and Hamilton College, I have enjoyed the continued opportunity to engage with the ideas and the people – from alumni to current students to faculty and fellows – that make the Institute the special place that it is. It has truly been a pleasure to reconnect with classmates through our shared affinity for the distinct model of education that AHI continues to advocate. While the news of higher education is too often littered with incidents of disinvited speakers and restrictions on speech and language, I am always heartened to read of the restorative work of AHI and the peer institutions whose creation it has spurred. More so than any Broadway play (no matter how catchy the refrain), the Alexander Hamilton Institute has helped to cement into the current academic ethos the relevance of the man whose name it bears.
Patrick Bedard, Hamilton College, Class of 2016
“At AHI, I found a safe place to explore my intellectual curiosity. AHI challenged me to learn by reading great works followed by provocative conversation. I turned to AHI to find the diverse views that fostered a stimulating learning environment. Studying Western thought had a profound impact on my developing values and enhanced my college experience.”
Andrew Mandelbaum, Hamilton College, Class of 2016