Libertas Goes to South Dakota

Libertas Scholars Blog | Bruce Rottman, Libertas Scholars Program Director

In the past several years, our country appears to be at an inflection point, with statist solutions to problems becoming more popular and more common. This July, ten Libertas Scholars from Providence spent four full days exploring these issues at FreedomFest in South Dakota. Graduates Christine Venzor and Olivia Bates, seniors Liza Coffin and Davis Peterson, juniors Avala Elwood, Emma Johnson, Ruby Kilpper, Jacklyn Pryko, and sophomores Teleios Zermeno and Eliana Bordin were chaperoned by Mr. and Mrs. Rottman for an intense and entertaining conference on the Western plains.

Students connect with Dr. Mark Skousen, FreedomFest Founder 

Libertas Scholars are required to attend a summer program, but COVID-19 made that impossible in 2020. This summer was a different story, allowing students to travel to Rapid City, where 2,700 “free minds” met “to celebrate great books, great ideas, and great thinkers.” There they were challenged by hundreds of options (presented in debates, talks, and films) and a variety of opinions. 

Students took full advantage of the many opportunities. 

— We heard Governor Noem of South Dakota and Senator Mike Lee of Utah

Governor Kirsti Noem introduces herself to the attendees
Senator Mike Lee (Utah) and his wife, Sharon, get a selfie with Liza

— Students were fascinated to learn how New Testament geography adds insights into what Jesus really said about justice and economics in a talk by Jerry Bowyer

— California gubernatorial candidate (and talk show host) Larry Elder inspired the attendees

Larry Elder rallies the crowd


— We saw several amazing documentaries at the simultaneous Anthem Film Festival

— Senior Davis Peterson served as one of 12 jurors on a Mock Trial on whether the pandemic lockdown was justified

— We heard insightful comments from economists Stephen Moore, Diedre McCloskey, and many others

— And we heard author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s defense of America’s war on Islamic terrorism, countered by an equally cogent and  convincing counterpoint from scholar Scott Horton

— Some of us saw a hilariously raucous debate, “Boomer vs. Zoomer: Which Generation Is More Dangerous to Freedom?” (Conclusion: they both are equally dangerous)

—We bought books, visited booths in the large exhibit hall, and laughed with comedians

Olivia and talk show host Dave Rubin

— We explored historic downtown Rapid City, played mini-golf, and experienced a moving lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore

Students experienced first hand the problem of tradeoffs (should we see an inspiring movie or hear a senator speak?), were tantalized by vendors’ treats, and competed in daily photo contests, trying to capture the best and oddest images from the Festival.

Checking out one of many statues in Rapid City upon our arrival at the airport

In addition to ten hours of learning each day and experiencing a civil exchange of ideas, students from different classes also enjoyed getting to know one another, which they missed out on during the past year of enforced cohorts, while exploring a different part of the country. 

But most of all, students gained an deeper appreciation for and understanding of the principles of freedom that have made our country a light on a hill. 

As Ruby wrote, “I was compelled by the consistent message of hope for America and progress towards a more free society.” Eliana added that she learned “new perspectives of the ideas we’ve learned about,” while Olivia noted how it was “healthy to talk across political divides.” Given how social media tends to move us into echo chambers, FreedomFest brought about “conversations with those who have different beliefs” and helped students “build up our own convictions as we participate in society today.” Liza noted that the broad range of ideas and speakers highlighted the “common values of freedom and individual rights that brought them all together;” like Olivia, she noted the “civil political discourse done with grace and respect” for other people’s values.

We trust that students will take these lessons into the upcoming school year, their college experiences, and their lives, and we are grateful for the generosity of Providence supporters, Robert and Margie Niehaus, who made it possible for our students to experience this enlightening and educational program.

Bruce Rottman
Bruce Rottman

Humanities, economics, and government teacher at Providence School; Libertas Scholars program director

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