By David Halbrook.
Patrick Henry College
Brett and Alex Harris, 2012 PHC graduates
By the time they began freshmen classes, the media buzz surrounding them was palpable. They arrived as a polished team. Their faces appearing in full-page WORLD Magazine ads for Rebelution conferences; their names featured in TV, radio, and news stories; their message was showcased in grand slam quotes like: “We encourage young people to understand that the reason any of us can do hard things is because Jesus Christ did the ultimate hard thing, the thing we never could do for ourselves. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was raised from the dead. He has saved us, first and foremost from our sins, but then also from wasting our lives doing things that really don't matter. We do hard things not in order to be saved, but because we are saved."
Given their choice of colleges, they chose PHC, they said, after reading God’s Harvard, a controversial, often unflattering book about the College by Hanna Rosin. “We began to gain a wider appreciation of what PHC was achieving,” observed Brett. “We saw God working there, and we were also impressed by the College’s enemies.”
If anyone expected the Harris twins to land on campus with a loud splash, perhaps running for office as freshmen or parlaying their reputations into privileged positions of influence, they would’ve been mistaken.
“It was something we decided before we came,” Alex confided. “We didn’t want to run for student government or come across like we felt entitled to positions of leadership. It was intentional. We wanted to earn the right to lead based on our time at school. We wanted people to see us as normal guys.”
So the brothers humbly and somewhat self-consciously kept doing hard things, studied hard, and continued speaking at Rebelution conferences. They wrote another book, won a national moot court championship as juniors -- Brett appeared in a full-length Christian movie -- and, for a season, they volunteered as the “face” of the College’s marketing campaign. Otherwise, they quietly assumed behind-the-scenes roles and responsibilities that few saw, and whenever and wherever they spoke or traveled, they enthusiastically promoted PHC to thousands of teenagers and served as PHC ambassadors extraordinaire.
Over time, a campus community that may have initially viewed the brothers as almost a single entity grew to know Alex and Brett as unique, maturing individuals with distinct gifts. The brothers both became engaged during their PHC years (Alex is now married to Courtney, with a newborn daughter), and each slowly discovered his own path toward the future.
“We do have different areas of gifting and ability,” says Alex. “Just getting older, but especially through our time at PHC, we’ve both been able to identify our individual strengths and interests. We’re pursuing those now, but we also feel like they complement each other really well.”
Brett Harris participates in the friendly semesterly Red Hill vs. Oak Hill football showdown in Franklin Park
This coming fall, Alex, winner of the Trustees’ Academic Excellence award at Commencement 2012, having earned a 3.99 GPA, will attend Harvard Law School. He discovered a “love for politics and public policy” through his government classes and moot court success. In the recent Student Research Symposium, Alex claimed first place with a treatise entitled, Why Divorce is Missing from the Political Agenda in America: A Comprehensive Treatment of the Obstacles to Reform. His project examined the reasons for today’s lack of political action against no-fault divorce, even among conservatives who fight to protect the traditional family.
Following graduation, Brett will also marry and move with his new bride back to Oregon for a season to work with his father, homeschooling pioneer Gregg Harris. There he will help care for younger siblings following the loss of their mother in 2010; he plans to write more books, continue his public speaking and ministry opportunities, and pursue entrepreneurial projects with fellow PHC comrades.
“I’m graduating with guys I fully expect to work with the rest of my life,” Brett says. “I’m very blessed to have developed friendships here with guys I’d be willing to lay my life down for, and they for me. That kind of friendship is not something either Alex or I had before we arrived.”
Their memorable, whirlwind four-year turn at PHC has been formative for both the brothers and the campus community. Reflecting back on their college careers, each treasures the opportunity they had to simply “fit in” with a group of visionary students like themselves.
“The biggest thing for me was being able to be a normal student who had to earn my right to be heard,” says Brett, who participated in basketball and soccer, served as a dorm R.A. for two years, was editor for the Herald and even helped to organize the dormitory football game and Homecoming tug-of-war. “I’m actually most proud of the fact that we made our way without asking for or receiving special treatment.”
Since marrying in the middle of his sophomore year, “my experience was a bit different,” allows Alex. “But building relationships with other students, going to classes, participating in basketball, Eden Troupe, and debate, those are huge blessings that I'll never forget.”
Of their future prospects together or apart, neither can offer a definitive forecast, though Brett ventures something of a working outline moving forward.
“I think we both share in common the PHC calling to lead the nation and shape the culture,” Brett adds. “Alex might be more on the ‘lead the nation’ track, and I’m more on the ‘shape the culture’ track. But we’ll work together the rest of our lives, even if our paths diverge for a season.”