By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Miriam McElvain, PHC senior and ISI Honors Fellow
“Most significant,” shares senior Rachel Blum, one of last year’s Honors Fellows from PHC, “[are] the actual conferences and symposia, where the ISI [pays] for weekend and week-long excursions to various areas of the country.”
A Patrick Henry College senior, McElvain joined the other 2009 Honors Fellows in Williamsburg, VA at the end of July to study the topic “Meaning in History: Learning from the Past.” Alongside students and professors from schools such as the University of Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, she found that her undergraduate preparation as a Government: Political Theory major had equipped her well for the intellectual discussions at hand.
“I felt completely prepared to participate and learn because of the foundation I received from PHC,” says McElvain. “In general, the ideas and concepts presented were familiar because PHC’s core introduced me to most of the major philosophers and their ideas.”
The conference required participants to synthesize diverse ideas into an overall body of knowledge, and McElvain says that she was able to appreciate discussions specifically because of PHC’s “cultivation of critical evaluation.” It enabled her, for instance, to analyze the ideas of even difficult speakers and provided an additional measure of confidence as she “interacted with the other students and even the professors on an intellectual level.”
The ISI has worked “to educate for liberty” since 1953. PHC’s Dr. Mark Mitchell, Director of the Political Theory track, calls the Institute “the premier conservative organization in the country,” and notes that ISI invests itself in students and faculty who will preserve the “permanent things,” the root elements of culture that spread upward into all the structures of society.
“As such,” he explains, “[ISI takes] a long view. They realize that culture is primary, and, if the culture disintegrates, political activity, even apparent ‘victories,’ represent merely an ineffectual bandage on a gaping wound.”
In the past, PHC students have toured ISI headquarters in Wilmington, DE, and several speakers from the organization have delivered lectures at PHC. The spring 2009 Faith and Reason Lecture at PHC, for example, was presented by Dr. Richard Gamble, who also spoke at this year’s ISI Honors conference. Dr. Mitchell, in turn, has lectured at various ISI events—so much so that McElvain jokes that she thinks “everyone at ISI was on a first-name basis with Dr. Mitchell.”
For the rest of the year, McElvain will correspond and converse with her ISI mentor, Dr. Neil Robertson from King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“We are thinking of reading a book together,” she says. “We may start out with English Speaking Justice by George Grant because Professor Robertson actually studied under Grant, and I read Grant’s book Time as History in preparation for the conference and really liked it.”
Reflecting on her year as an Honors Fellow, Blum adds: “For someone who enjoys interpersonal interaction and discussion, [ISI] weekends were a priceless haven into a world where seeking to discover and better understand truth is considered one of the primary conditions for the good life.”