First-Time Voters

i-votedBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

It is difficult to know where to begin recapping this week. Presidential elections are always exciting at the High School because for a number of students, it is the first time they have been eligible to cast a ballot! On Tuesday at Morning Meeting, we acknowledged that milestone and I reminded the students that nearly all of them will be voting in the very next Presidential election in 2020, which is a true privilege and something they should cherish and take advantage of. (Given that it appears nearly half of eligible voters did not choose to vote this go-round, I can only hope SFS alumni will do better. And I am sure they will!)

Wednesday morning found many students stunned at the results, which were the opposite of those predicted by polls. While we want to always take care that at SFS, acceptance and tolerance includes people at various places on the political spectrum, this election felt different to many because of the campaign’s divisive rhetoric. As I looked around the room in Morning Meeting, I saw students who, because of the election results, feel fearful for themselves, their families or their friends, based on their religion, race, gender, identification, etc. – feelings that transcend politics as usual. So we began. Alexandra and I both shared some thoughts, and then other students and faculty did. We acknowledged the pain in the room and talked about the divide in our country that must be seen and healed. Brownie Southworth ’17 shared a moving poem he had written while watching the election results, with a refrain of “We the People”. It was a meeting filled with understanding and with a sense of community.

Throughout the morning, classes happened as usual but discussions continued as well. Many students and faculty gathered to watch Hillary Clinton’s televised speech. Then, already scheduled for that day was an all-school screening of 13th, an incredible Netflix documentary that examines the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) against the history of the “war on drugs” and the prison industrial complex in which African-American males are disproportionately incarcerated. The film was followed up today by an optional discussion, sponsored by the Black Students Association, which was attended by dozens of students. History and law teacher Trent Apple opened with some explanation of the history of the 13th Amendment and the Constitution, followed by students sharing the moments they found most impactful in the film. Toward the end, BSA moderator Brett Paice asked BSA President Alexis Nelson ’18 what she felt the white students in the room could do to be allies. She responded that they could join the BSA, support their activities, be a part of their discussions. It can be difficult for white students – with the best of intentions, but not really understanding what to say or do – to be the kinds of allies they articulated wanting to be during the discussion. For me, what is vital about this conversation, the movie screening, and the discussions from Wednesday is this: St. Francis is a place where we can and will have the tough conversations on race – or on any other subject that needs it.  Where we will encourage people to be vulnerable, to open themselves to new ways of thinking and to ask questions rather than squelch those questions out of fear, and thereby never learn the answers. Where we will do our very best to know one another, to communicate without rancor, and to understand different points of view. It’s not a solution to all of society’s ills, but it’s a start.  And this week, there’s nowhere I am more proud or grateful to be than with this group of teenagers and adults.