As red and blue maps and graphs coated the screens of news websites Tuesday, the Upper School used their virtual monthly chapel to share hopeful, nonpartisan research and reflections about election day.
The speakers—several upper schoolers, Harvard senior and Rowland Hall alum Will Matheson ’17, and Interfaith Chaplain Jeremy Innis—also encouraged students to participate in our democracy by, for instance, voting when they turn 18. And throughout the heartening half hour, Jeremy, Will, and the student presenters touched on a central idea: especially when tensions are high, remain kind and respectful, and work to build trust and dialogue with others.
“I hope that you can find some wisdom here, some hope and compassion, and that we can think as a community about how to move through this week gracefully and thoughtfully,” Jeremy said as he kicked off the virtual event.
Scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.—Senior Alex Hodson
Seniors Augustus Hickman, Alex Hodson, and Katie Kern presented first. As students in Mike Shackelford’s political science class, they’re learning about the societal and institutional forces—as opposed to the individual candidates or choices—that affect election results. Drawing from that practical foundation, they offered level-headed insights: “Brace yourself. It's OK that we don't know immediately,” Alex said, referring to the election results. Let the system run its course, she added. “Second, scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.”
Next, alum Will Matheson—a Harvard senior studying government with a secondary concentration in economics—presented an overview of his work as a research team lead working on the Harvard Youth Poll. Will reassured upper schoolers that Americans aged 18–29 are more alike than it might seem: a majority of the young Democrats and Republicans surveyed, for example, want the government to do more to address health care issues, mental health services, and the economic consequences of the pandemic. Young Americans are also highly engaged right now and may have voted at record levels in this election.
Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved.—Alum Will Matheson ’17
So what can Rowland Hall students do with this information, especially considering most can’t vote yet? Will—who fittingly co-wrote a CNN op-ed back in June entitled “Dear Gen Z, don't give up on America just yet”—encouraged students to vote in every election they can, from age 18 onwards. “The system has to be impacted by youth over time to make progress on those issues,” he said, referring to the shared priorities revealed in the Harvard Youth Poll, “so turning out in every election at every level of government matters.”
Second—less concrete but no less important, Will said—he asked students to become the best citizens they can be. “Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved,” he said. “We need to embody qualities like curiosity, empathy, and humility to admit when we are wrong … It requires hard skills like being a smart media consumer, but also soft skills like being able to talk to people that you might not agree with. Once we've done that, only then can we begin to really heal our civic culture.” Only in trial is progress possible, Will closed. “It requires all of us, with big hearts and open minds.”