I graduated from Calvin in 2002 with a degree in European History. After Calvin, I went to law school at Michigan State University. I now practice law at a small law firm in Farmington Hills, Michigan, focusing mainly on litigation. I am convinced that studying history at Calvin provided me with an edge in law school and that it has provided me with a lifelong advantage in my profession.
Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?
Calvin’s history program has a great reputation, and the judge that presided over my admission to the Michigan Bar Association commented on the history department’s strong reputation for excellence. The main reason I chose to study history is because I am interested in how people think and behave and in what motivates people to make the decisions they make. It is also fun to learn about all the strange things people do, no matter what time period they lived in. Also, learning about the past is a good way to get a sense of what might happen in the future. After all, the present is the end product of the past, and today is tomorrow's past. By being able to compare the past to the present, one might be able to at least have a better idea of how things might turn out in the future based on what is happening now.
I chose Calvin in particular because I wanted a smaller class size that allowed for more interaction with other students and professors than larger colleges. I also wanted easy access to professors outside of class time.
How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?
The story of history is the big picture or the whole, while the people, circumstances, and events in that story are the moving parts. During my time at Calvin, my professors taught history in such a way that I was constantly forced to put the bits and pieces of history together myself to put together the story, to make sense of the whole and to explain how the pieces came together to make that whole. In other words, I learned how to tell the story. Some might call this critical thinking and analysis.
The study of history has helped me to develop a way of thinking that allows me to see the big picture in any given situation at work, as well as to see all the moving parts. In my profession, those are the facts, circumstances, and the law in any given situation or case that make up that big picture, and how those moving parts fit together make the story. I use the critical thinking skills and thought processes I developed at Calvin on a daily basis at work with the added task of first having to identify the moving parts and which of those parts I need to properly put the puzzle together to be able to tell the story or argue my client’s position to opposing counsel, a judge, or a jury.
What are some of your memories of the Calvin History department?
My very first history midterm exam for which I had to write a 4 page essay in less than an hour that covered a 300 or 400 hundred year period. Taking a class trip to the scriptorium in Grand Haven and reading the medieval texts and standing underneath a replica of a Gutenberg press while there. I’m still sorry I missed the trip to the monastery. I also remember a history project where I was able to interview a Vietnam vet—I felt like I was on the History Channel. I’ll never forget performing a play in the Calvin Chapel, where I played the villain. That must have looked like a scene from Monty Python! I hope it’s not on video somewhere.
Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?
Expect to be challenged at Calvin and do not be afraid to challenge your professors. Calvin history professors are passionate about their fields of study and just as passionate about teaching others about history. My profs were always open for debate about various issues, whether in person or via email over an extended period. My history profs were just as curious about all things history and were just as excited and motivated to learn during the semester as the students were. Profs were most excited about learning from their students. Therefore, you should never walk into a classroom and accept that the professor has all the right answers. The profs definitely know more about historical facts and different possible interpretations of those facts, but as you will learn, history can often be just as much interpretation as it is fact.