Aaron was born in South Carolina and grew up outside the city of Columbia. He was homeschooled, and his parents encouraged his early love of history by taking him to historic sites around their state. He majored in History in college, with a focus on the intellectual history of the American South, and graduated in May 2015. In October, he will be marrying another ISI honors fellow, Meg Campbell. Aaron was happy to share his ISI experience with us.
- How did you find out about ISI? What drew you to get involved in ISI's programming?
I joined the Euphradian Society, one of the only surviving nineteenth century literary societies in South Carolina, during my freshman year. The Society has been affiliated with ISI since its reactivation by alumni in 2010. Our members were invited to attend the inaugural Principles of Liberty Conference at Samford University in July 2011, and a group of us decided to go. I am so grateful we did. ISI events were immediately attractive to me because of the opportunities they provided to meet other serious-minded students. Many (if not most) students in college today do not attend to acquire a liberal education. For them, a university education is merely a means to an end. Through ISI, I met other students who actively sought the intellectual life.
- What was the highlight of your undergraduate experience?
Cardinal Newman writes in The Idea of a University that a university education is that “which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them.” Unfortunately, this is rarely true of a modern university education and certainly not accomplished at my alma mater without a great deal of planning and effort. Yet, I think Newman would have been pleased with the sort of education that I received in the Euphradian Society. It provided a perfect complement to my classes; I often worked longer on orations to be delivered before the Society than I did for more conventional homework assignments, because I knew the criticism would be more well-reasoned—and more enthusiastically expressed—than in most class discussions. Being among our little body of virtuous, truth-seeking men was the most humbling experience of my life.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
An ISI conference is an event every intellectually earnest student should experience before graduation. While all of the elements that make up a conference are wonderful—the travel, the engaging speakers, the copious amounts of free books—I look back most fondly on the conversations I had with professors and other students. While ISI operates under the umbrella term “conservatism,” conference attendees were anything but monolithic in their political and religious views. The conversations, and often lively debates, heard at the conferences I attended were far richer than most heard at my university (outside Euphradian Society hall).
- How have you spent your summers?
My first college summer was spent studying Russian at a Department of Defense language immersion program in San Diego. I spend the second at Air Force ROTC field training, and the ISI Honors Conference. During my final college summer, I attended two conferences on science and religion at Oxford and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom, traveled to Rome and Athens, and spent a week sailing with some fellow Euphradians (including another ISI honors fellow) in the Cyclades.
- Whom do you admire most, and why?
For those (like myself) who have grown up in the church, it is possible to become numb to the beauty of the gospels, and to lose sight of the eloquence, the mysticism, and even the wit of Jesus. But there is no man whom a Christian should admire more. I remember the first time I read Plato’s Apology, I was greatly moved by Socrates’ unjust death, and it moves me still. But how much nobler was the death of Jesus? How more far-reaching were the consequences?
- What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?
I would first urge them to read. The Western tradition has produced many works of profound eloquence, and a student must read some of them before trying their hand at “activism.” I think the cause of tradition is often injured by its own well-meaning, but poorly-read, supporters. ISI’s library is a splendid resource for some of this foundational reading material. I would also urge them to eschew ideology—just because something has the label “conservative” does not mean it is the truth. Reading the classics will help them recognize the same tired old mistakes wrapped up in fancy new packages. Finally, I would encourage them to find like-minded students, especially those who are farther along in their studies, with whom they can discuss the eternal things. Everyone needs a “little platoon.” Joining ISI is a good way to find one.
- What are your plans after graduation?
I have commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the USAF, and will be traveling to my first assignment sometime in the next year.