Dear Students: Looking Ahead to Election Day

Election Day 2020

Below is a message about the November 3 Head of School Jon McGee shared with our Upper School students in grades 9-12.
Dear Students,

We are now just one week away from election day. For some seniors who have already turned 18, this will be your first opportunity to vote. I strongly encourage you to do so. I cast my first presidential ballot in 1984 and still remember how important it felt then. Voting is among the greatest privileges and responsibilities we have in a democratic society.

Election day always signals new beginnings. New ideas sometimes prevail. Other times, old ideas are recast. Candidates win or lose races. For some, election outcomes are cause for rejoicing. For others, the same outcomes are cause for despair. Make no mistake, elections are always consequential.

As someone who studied political science and public policy in college and graduate school, I find the divisiveness of recent election cycles disheartening and troubling. It seems more difficult than ever to find common ground and sometimes even to have a civil conversation about our differences. Polarizing language and rhetoric too often defines civic conversation today. It casts most issues through the lens of winner-take-all and loser-lose-all. And that’s a problem because that approach cuts off opportunities for common understanding, common good or better good.

As we approach another important election, how can we think about this at Saint John’s Prep? In his rule for monks, Saint Benedict directed the community to welcome all as Christ. A simple phrase but a radically inclusive assertion that demands not only a spirit of hospitality but also empathy and a deep sense of connection and community. Saint Benedict demands that we reject exclusion and open our hearts to the other, a decidedly powerful and sometimes difficult position for us to take as individuals. But a necessary commitment for those seeking a common good or a better good.

Our Benedictine values at Prep call us to welcome all people and to respect the dignity of each person. They demand deep listening to the voices of all those around us, particularly the voices of the suffering and the oppressed. And they teach us to actively strive for peace with self, with others, and with God. When you think about your civic life, choose to be connectors – to ideas, to each other, and to community.

The upcoming election will in many ways be like every one that has preceded it: some candidates will win, others will lose. Some new ideas will prevail, others will be cast aside. But whether the people or ideas you prefer win or lose, like every other election before, the conversation will continue as it always has and must.

When asked about what makes a life well-lived, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “[Do] something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is – living not for oneself, but for one’s community.” That’s terrific advice.

If you haven’t already, take the time to understand the issues of our times and to reflect on your values in relation to those issues. To rephrase Saint Benedict a bit, think and listen with the ear of your head and heart. Whether you can already vote or not, you still can choose to be heard and to begin making a difference in your world, not just on election day but every day.

Listen thoughtfully. Think carefully. Engage hopefully and courageously.

Jon McGee
Head of School