April 17, 2020

Drawing inspiration from Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis,” Hampden-Sydney College senior John Pittman pens a letter to his classmates commiserating over shared disappointment while offering hope for shared days to come.

John Pittman anf fatherby John Pittman ’20

If you were to ask us, the men of Hampden-Sydney, we would say that these are the times that try men’s souls and that the sunshine scholar and springtime Tiger have indeed shrunk from this land. We all know—and ignore the fact—that our time on the Hill is finite. However, none of us knew how finite it really was. How many of us ate in the Commons, walked through Morton, chatted with a professor, or spent time with a friend just before spring break without knowing that it would be the last time we did so this year? All of us. 

As with so much of our unique college experience, we are all in the same boat. I believe that if a Hampden-Sydney man’s strength lies anywhere, it lies in his support system, comprised of his classmates. With each other, each day is what we are living for—not the grade that tomorrow might bring. If one is known by the company he keeps, then the like-minded idealists with whom we go to school make us who we are. Without our friends, we feel less than whole. Of a long-anticipated Greek Week, of those precious final moments on the Hill, of farewells and parting words, of time with one another, we were robbed. 

I believe that if a Hampden-Sydney man’s strength lies anywhere, it lies in his support system, comprised of his classmates.

John Pittman ’20

If anything can come from this—aside from frustration with online classes—it is a heightened appreciation for our time at Hampden-Sydney. Our happy-hour Zoom sessions, our intermittent phone calls, our endless snapchats remind us not only of how much we mean to one another but also of how there are things that the virus cannot affect. Sure, we might thump our chests with quiet envy at our friends at other schools facing pass/fail classes. But, in the end, I think we are more than small class sizes in historic brick buildings without a grading curve. Ultimately, we are all disciples of an idea—a timeless but ignored idea that posits that we love our neighbors as ourselves, that honor and virtue mean everything, that idealists can and do succeed.  

We miss the Hill. More than that, we miss each other. But as Thomas Paine so eloquently penned, “It is dearness only that gives everything its value.” This unfortunate situation has proven just how dear Hampden-Sydney is to all of us. Hampden-Sydney is more than a college, and her sons are more than just scholars. Hang in there, and we’ll soon see each other back on the Hill.  

John Pittman ’20 is a senior from Courtland, Virginia, and the former chairman of the student court. A history major and rhetoric minor, John is also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the Garnet & Grey Society. A proud second-generation Tiger, John is the son of Vee Pittman ’84 and brother of Scott Pittman ’22.

John Pittman '20 and his family

The Pittman Family at the 2016 Legacy Luncheon (L to R): Vee ’84, John ’20, Anne, and Scott ’22