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The new Barbara Hodel Center at Patrick Henry College
PURCELLVILLE, Va. – Matthew du Mee was one of more than 2 million college-bound students in 2001 to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT.
But he was one of only a tiny handful who received a perfect score.
Within weeks, the nation’s most prestigious schools – Harvard, Yale, and Stanford among them – began courting him. Du Mee turned them all down, choosing instead a tiny new school with, at the time, fewer than 100 students, no accreditation and no name outside of homeschooling circles.
The school was Patrick Henry College, created as haven of sorts for the nation’s brightest homeschooled students, and which has, in seven ensuing years, grown into a well-known and influential evangelical school purposed to train Christian leaders for high level service in the public square. Its rigorous academic programs, abundant Capitol Hill apprenticeships, and deep homeschooling ties led to its being dubbed “God’s Harvard” in a new book by Washington Post religion reporter Hanna Rosin.
Located in the small town of Purcellville, Va., on the rural outskirts of Washington, D.C., Patrick Henry College is a classical Christian liberal arts college created for students seeking an academically demanding education at a school forged from America’s founding principles and powered by passionate Christian discipleship.
Its uncommon profile – Ivy League-caliber scholastics paired with a distinctly Christian worldview – has produced graduates who are both serving and impressing people at the highest levels of government, business, media, and even secular academic institutions.
The New Yorker reported in 2005 that Patrick Henry College students have taken between one and five of the White House internships in each of the past five years – “roughly the same as Georgetown.” The college’s disproportionate representation on Capitol Hill is simply proof, say officials for whom they serve, of the students’ disciplined work ethic, critical thinking skills, and, more importantly, an eager, plainspoken humility.
Many PHC graduates have gone on to prestigious graduate schools, including Harvard Law, and presently hold positions in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court, the FBI, National Geographic, Fox News and throughout the intelligence community, to name a few. Indicative of its mission to populate the public square with world-class Christian speakers, jurists, and apologists, PHC’s vaunted legal and parliamentary debate teams annually dominate national and regional tournaments.
“Ninety percent of our students come from homeschooling backgrounds, and are very motivated,” says Michael P. Farris, the founder and chancellor of the school. “Most students that come to PHC have a vision to go out into the public square and make an impact – make a difference.”
The new Barbara Hodel Center at Patrick Henry College
Now the little school that could is about to get bigger.
Earlier this year, Farris announced to the student body, faculty and administration that a major donor has guaranteed the completion of the Barbara Hodel Center, the school’s highly anticipated new student life center. The pledge ensured that the 106,000 square-foot building, which will cost approximately $32 million, will be built by fall of the 2009 semester.
“We have received a generous guarantee of full funding for the Barbara Hodel Center,” Farris told students. “This constitutes a foundational moment in the life of the college, securing the completion of a wonderful new facility that will become the centerpiece of campus life.”
The guarantee itself is being billed as a “challenge grant” meant to inspire the much-needed expansion the college’s current donor base, and, says Farris, “solidify the long-term fiscal health of PHC and its annual scholarship program.”
In this respect, the next 12 months promise to be a crucial time for PHC – the school has pledged to expand its donor base from 1,500 to 5,000 in a campaign known as “Finish the Foundation.” It’s a goal, Farris says, the college must meet to stabilize for long-term growth.
“Failure is not an option, as far as I’m concerned,” Farris said.
The announcement guaranteeing completion of the Barbara Hodel Center was met with cheers across campus, but also served as an exhortation for students to get involved in the grass-roots effort to find new donors. The challenge not only involves spreading the good news of the wonderful things PHC is achieving, but also telling others that such a uniquely poised and appointed new college even exists.
“George Washington had a desire to start a college in D.C. to train national leadership,” Farris explains. “He saw the benefits of bringing people from all over the country to study. He knew national camaraderie would be established in training leaders together. It never happened in the way he dreamed. But a little more than 200 years later we started a college in the D.C. area, embracing the values of George Washington. I believe we’re raising up the kind of leaders he would have wanted.”
Matthew du Mee’s name would no doubt make its way on to such a list. Since graduating, du Mee has been accepted to, and began attending, Harvard Law School. Other PHC graduates have gone on to prestigious law and graduate schools, and just this past month Lindsay See became the second PHC graduate to be accepted into Harvard Law.
With a student body now exceeding 300 students, and formal accreditation in place from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), the college is solidifying master plans to expand both its campus and enrollment rolls. PHC’s faculty presently consists of 20 full time professors, 19 of whom hold doctorates in their disciplines, and the college continues to attract high profile Christian academics.
In recent months, it welcomed to its faculty Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, an internationally renowned Christian apologist, famed debater, and author of more than 40 books. He joins a faculty that already includes acclaimed author and cultural commentator, Dr. Gene Edward Veith, formerly World Magazine’s culture editor and one of the nation’s leading experts on classical learning. Also in residence is award-winning, former Time Magazine senior correspondent and best-selling author, Dr. David Aikman. In early 2006, the college also welcomed aboard as its new president Dr. Graham Walker, a highly regarded Christian scholar and longtime educator.
As Walker puts it, PHC is a “one-of-a-kind college,” one that forms in students “a fervent heart of worship and a lucid mind for leadership.” It offers, he says, “a curriculum that transmits the classical legacy of our Christian civilization.” Walker cites Christ himself, who said, “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Mat. 6:22) Walker wants the students to have “a singleness of vision for Christ…. This is just what is happening, and our country’s future hinges on it no matter who wins the next election.”
Amid the many important changes and additions, one thing has remained constant: PHC continues to burnish its reputation as a “debaters’ college.” Its legal debate teams have not only beaten Oxford University twice, they’ve captured back-to-back national moot court championships (2005-2006), and for the past two years have earned more individual speaker and team trophies at moot court nationals than any other college.
Today Farris, a constitutional attorney and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, sees his dream of a college anchored in both academic rigor and unflinching biblical teaching becoming a reality.
With its distinctly Christian statement of faith leaving no room for confusion, Patrick Henry College has designed one of the most comprehensive core curriculums in the country and an academic foundation built upon the truth found only in Scripture. To protect itself from government regulations and thereby safeguard its liberty to teach from a distinctly Christian worldview, the College operates with a no-debt policy and accepts no government funding. Its operations and facilities are funded entirely through donations.
The college continues to be the subject of intense media scrutiny, books, and international features, documentaries – even movies – not to mention the ongoing and often vicious attacks from its critics on the left. Yet PHC’s leadership remains committed to holding fast to its biblical roots, founding principles and evangelical aspirations, come what may.
“A small number of Christian colleges are truly faithful to word of God,” Farris said. “At Patrick Henry we are committed to remaining faithful. We are not alone in that, but among an increasingly small number. Many schools have compromised. We remain unwavering.”