One Nation: What’s Your Role?

November 17, 2016

Nick Stoneman wrote a letter to the SSM student body on November 17th and it serves as the message for this post.

Dear Members of the Student Body,

Let me start by congratulating each of you for getting through the Fall Term exams. Collectively they represent the significant volume of academic work you have completed throughout the Term – which is an impressive feat! Preparing for them has meant many hours of focused study and preparation. And now, your well-deserved Thanksgiving break is here, a break that I hope you truly enjoy with your family and friends.

Some of you may be wondering why I am writing to you today. Simply put, I do so to provide clarity, assurance, and direction for you and for our community as we consider what lays in store for our nation.

As each of you know, our country has gone through a very contentious election process, regardless of which party you felt should occupy the White House. Unfortunately, emboldened by the election’s harsh discourse, there is a small segment of our nation’s population that is taking the election’s outcome as an affirmation of its discriminatory views. We have seen this in racist acts and threats, and in the spreading of graffiti across the campuses of schools and colleges throughout the nation.

Further, while these acts are reprehensible in and of themselves, we must not lose sight of the sorrow, worry, and concern some may feel today for their or others safety and well-being – in a nation that boasts the greatest, most embracing model of democracy mankind has ever created.

While the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, condemn the discriminatory behavior we are seeing, it reminds us of the work yet to be done in our country as we strive to be a nation for all.

It is incumbent upon each of us to really look within and ask, “What am I to do?” It does not matter who you wanted to win the election. That is over and will not be changing for at least four years. What matters is how we move ahead in our daily lives, knowing more fully how much work has yet to be done to assure our nation sustains and furthers its principles of equality and justice for all. And while we are a democracy that cherishes free speech, we must maintain our expectations that free speech is not a license for expressing hate, fostering fear, and making or posting threats to others.

You are each a member of the SSM community. At the very core of our community is our belief in the sacred nature of our humanity – our care and love for those we are with every day. That is unequivocal – always has been and always will be. So when you hear through the media what is occurring around the country, I have to assure you that SSM has not changed. SSM is and always will be your safe harbor. It is your sanctuary.

The hurtful acts we are seeing across the nation have no place here. As apparent as that should be, it needs stating. There is no grey area when it comes to our expectation that each of you be respectful of one another and be sensitive to the needs and concerns of your classmates, dormmates, or teammates. And know that the behavior you display and the standards you hold our community to are what really make a difference. I encourage you to:

  • Support a classmate who is afraid she might not be able to return because she is from a foreign nation.
  • Listen with empathy and concern to a teammate who, because of his religion, is upset about what is occurring across the nation. His knowing you care for him and have no tolerance for discrimination makes a marked difference.
  • Reach out to women in our school who may feel uncertainty and sadness over what to expect in their futures.
  • Express your concern and objection if you hear or read something racist or homophobic – and know how much of a difference you are making in the lives of those targeted.
  • Listen to people who have different ideas than you and engage in open and thoughtful discourse.

It is also essential that you know that being here is not to be apart from the important national dialogue that must take place, a dialogue about the rights of those who are part of a minority – in birthplace, race, religion, or sexual orientation. You have a responsibility to understand the issues the nation faces, formulate your thoughts and perspectives, and then, in your own way and in your own time, engage, follow, lead, and make a difference.

Our School is nearly 160 years old. There are thousands of graduates who have preceded you who chose to contribute in meaningful ways to society. Our alumni have protected our democracy by leading our nation’s armies, have served in Congress, argued for justice as attorneys, led ministries in prayer and worship, worked in orphanages in distant lands, launched campaigns to combat teen drug use, served on countless boards of youth organizations, partaken in peaceful protests, taught in urban and rural underfunded schools – the list goes on. Each has chosen to play a role in the furtherance of our nation, whether it be our government or the people it represents. Their legacy is one that we expect to continue through your contributions in the years ahead – and the state of affairs today across the country amplifies the need for your involvement.

Our School, and all it has stood for, is a force for good. You are a very important part of that ethos, of our unfaltering commitment to thinking of, and caring for others. Likewise, today and for the rest of your time here, you are under its wing and are safe. Our School, all of us here, care deeply for you and your well-being, and hope that, when you pass through the Arch on your way to your next setting, you will carry the torch of equality, of civility, and of care for others and their well-being high and with conviction.

After you have had a chance to reflect on this letter, I welcome the opportunity to speak with any and each of you, should you be interested. Collectively, through dialogue and exchange, we can move forward and make a difference.

All my best to you and your family. Enjoy your break!

Mr. Stoneman


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