Educating Students for Democracy W&L Alumni Magazine Winter-Spring 2016

Time - and the American voters - will tell if Washington and Lee's 2016 Republican Mock Convention made the correct call when it nominated Donald J. Trump on Feb. 13 at the conclusion of the spirited festivities in Warner Center.

In its story about this year's event, the New York Times called Mock Convention "one of the most meticulous and intriguing predictions of its kind." That's high praise, but well deserved. Now we'll wait five months to learn whether or not the students' painstaking research will improve the impressive record for accuracy - a record that currently stands at 19 out of 25.

I didn't envy them their assignment. If ever an election year posed a puzzle for the students - especially after only two primaries - the 2016 Republican race was uniquely challenging. In its final prediction memo, the Political Team enumerated all the "ifs" that remain and observed how easily unforeseen circumstances could derail Trump - and the team's bold prediction.

But no matter what eventually happens in Cleveland come July, all of our student participants can claim victory for having successfully completed this ultimate research project - one of the finest expressions of political and civic engagement on any college campus.

As I told the conventioneers in their opening session, what they accomplished during those two days does matter - and it matters in ways they may not fully realize.

We are facing a difficult time in this country. And higher education is facing a difficult time as well.

I believe there are two basic reasons why young men and women go to college. One is to be sure they can contribute to the economy-and in a way that enables them to support themselves and their families. There's nothing wrong with that, and our students seem to do quite well on that front. They work hard. They have much to contribute. They will do well. We are indeed part of a complex economic system, and they need to know how to work within it.

But there's another reason why students attend college. In addition to our place in the complex economic system, we are also part of an equally complex and extremely challenging democratic political system. We educate citizens and leaders at Washington and Lee, and we prepare them to contribute effectively not just to an economy but also a democracy-a democracy that pursues, or should pursue, a common good, a democracy that requires sacrifice and compromise, civility and good will, and a concern for the welfare of others, even as its citizens legitimately and aggressively defend their own self-interests.

You don't hear much these days about colleges educating students for democracy. There are no rating systems based on the way in which students have been prepared to pursue their places in our democratic society. But as I looked at the convention hall on that Friday afternoon in February, I did so with incredible pride in each and everyone of our students, not only for what they were about to accomplish over the course of the convention but, more important, with pride in what I know they will accomplish in the years to come - for them, for their families, for our society, for our country.