“The Epitome of Civil Discourse”: First McCain-Ravenel Monday Kicks Off With High-Profile Guests

The McCain-Ravenel Center for Intellectual and Moral Courage hosted its first “McCain-Ravenel Monday” of the year yesterday, inviting speakers from across the country and across political parties to talk about racial justice and the upcoming elections.

The day began with a keynote address by Marlon Peterson, a human-justice advocate who spent his 20s incarcerated in the state of New York. Peterson told our students how a mentorship program he started in prison ultimately saved his life. The program and the 150 letters he wrote to middle school students gave him a deep sense of purpose. By sharing their stories with him, the students taught Peterson the power of sharing his own story and reaching across racial and cultural divides to truly understand each other’s experiences. As our students continue reading and discussing Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Peterson spoke of criminal-justice reform and how to him, mercy means “finding the human spirit within ourselves.”

Peterson encouraged our students to understand the impact young people have and the deep capacity of empathy humans need to understand each other’s experience. “At your age, you have the opportunity right now to change lives. In order to do that, you have to do the very important work of trying to understand why. You have to dig deeper. And then dig deeper.”

Tyler Brown ’99, who has held multiple senior roles at the Republican National Committee, moderated the afternoon’s keynote conversation between past EHS parents Mary Matalin and James Carville. Matalin, a Republican political consultant who served as George H.W. Bush’s campaign director, and Carville, a Democrat who led Bill Clinton’s ’92 presidential campaign, talked about the merit of political parties and the current national divide. While discussing the upcoming presidential election, Matalin recognized: “These are not normal times. There are two competing ways forward here.”

Like Peterson, Matalin and Carville encouraged learning more about the opposing side rather than dismissing each other’s political viewpoints. History teacher Caroline English called their relationship “the epitome of civil discourse that we should all strive for.”

The afternoon concluded with a variety of speakers discussing media and public opinion; campaigns and election strategies; Covid-19 and voting rights; police reform policy; and more. Students chose the sessions to attend and hopped from meeting to meeting to learn about and discuss topics of particular importance to them. We are grateful to the many EHS alumni, parents, and past parents who participated in the event:

Tyler Brown ’99
James Carville P’16
Jon DeWitte P’23
Tim Garon ’99
Chris Giblin ’86
Richard Lee ’05
Jeff MacKinnon P ’21
Lauren Marshall ’09
Mary Matalin P’16
Stuart Stevens ’71

In one of the final sessions, The New Yorker writer Lizzie Widdicombe asked students if they felt more informed on politics given the current climate. One student wrote: “Yes, because I have realized that we are the future — and we are able to make change in the world.”