November 2016

A Letter from the Headmaster

Dear Parents and Friends:

Several of you have spoken to me individually about the School's experience and response to the election, so I thought that I would write this letter to you all.

As you know, this past presidential election was tremendously negative and divisive, and the result was a surprise, which meant that feelings on Wednesday morning were strong on both sides, and the reactions immediate and emotional. Those who supported Mr. Trump were elated and felt triumphant and vindicated; those who supported Secretary Clinton were shocked and felt vulnerable and rejected.

The challenge for Saint James is that ours is a divided community, reflecting the political division of the country. In fact, when the debate club held a pre-election debate on Saturday afternoon before the election, the result was remarkably similar to the national polls: one third for Clinton, one third for Trump, and one third for "neither of the above."

In my remarks before and after the election, I have used what we are experiencing here to teach our students how our constitution works, specifically the role of the Electoral College in electing the president and the role of the Senate and the House of Representatives in checking the president's powers. I have reiterated President Obama's point that those elected tend to rise to the office, and thus that it is reasonable to hope that a candidate's rhetoric will not directly translate into his actions as president. I have also made the point that elections are not sports contests, so we all have the obligation as citizens to put our loyalty to our country, and indeed our commitment to the peace and prosperity of the world, ahead of any party or candidate.

Most importantly, I have stressed to our students that Saint James is a community of learners, so it is especially important that we remain respectful and considerate in our engagement with each other. We must therefore listen to each other generously, seeking always to understand the argument of the one opposing us, as our students learn to do in class debate and discussion. In the case of the victors, it is their responsibility to empathize with their friends who feel bewildered and afraid, and in the case of the defeated, it is their responsibility to practice resilience, keep perspective, and express their feelings and opinions bravely and respectfully so that they are heard and understood.

Needless to say, the School's expectation that no student will ever be personally attacked or bullied remains unchanged and will be enforced. We are a diverse community, and we are proud of our diversity, assuming gladly the responsibility enshrined in the baptismal vow of the Book of Common Prayer "to respect the dignity of every human being." As many of you know, this is a distinguishing mark of our tradition as an Episcopal school, and it is inherent in our culture. Any student who feels attacked in this way is encouraged to speak to his or her advisor, the School Counselor, the Dean of Students, the Chaplain, or me.

Allow me to thank my colleagues on the faculty for their professional restraint and generous concern for all of their students during this difficult time. There has been good discussion and lively debate in their classrooms, in the dorms, and at our lunch and dinner tables, which has been engaging and often quite thoughtful. In this regard, it is actually good that we do not always agree with each other, as we can learn from a friend that other side of the argument, which we would otherwise dismiss without thought or consideration.

In conclusion, I commend to you this prayer for our country, which we offered before and after the election in Chapel:

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly
beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of the favor
and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning,
and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride
and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into
one untied people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.
Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in the Name we entrust the authority
of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through
obedience to thy law, we many show forth thy praise among the nations of the
earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day
of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ
our Lord. (BCP, p.820)

My best wishes for a joyful and grateful Thanksgiving.

Yours faithfully,

The Revd. D. Stuart Dunnan, D. Phil.