May 21, 2022

Democracy is not a state

Monroe Hall after a snowfall. A message from the Office of the President. 

“Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

John Lewis

The New York Times, July 30, 2020

 

To members of the UMW Community:

Like you, I watched with shock and horror as a mob attacked our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. I struggled that night and Thursday with what, if anything, to say to the Mary Washington community in the wake of this travesty. Adding my voice to the chorus of condemnations from across the globe seemed gratuitous.

On the other hand, given our mission, proximity to DC, and the reality that this event, along with the stress of the pandemic, has impacted all of us in a very real and profound way, does the Mary Washington community need to hear from me at this time?  At the very least, I do feel compelled to give voice to our calling and mission in the face of such a national disgrace.

Wednesday was a manifestation of a dangerous undercurrent that has been a part of our national story since its beginning. As we have learned, it does not take much to unleash that destructive force. As if we needed to be reminded, the biggest threat to our nation’s future is from within; it always has been.

Mary Washington’s mission calls us to be nothing less than a counterforce to the darkness and self-interest that can lie in the human spirit and to make sacrifices for the common good. As a public, liberal arts institution, UMW’s purpose and community values are grounded in and defined by the fundamental principles of a democratic civil society.

As Congressman Lewis’ final words instruct, we must act in the face of this unraveling. It is easy to gain notoriety and even political support by sowing seeds of division, hate, and resentment toward those with whom you disagree. It is much more difficult to work with those on the other side of the political divide, to listen to dissenting views and counterarguments, to love your enemies, and sow seeds of hope despite all the reasons to feel hopeless.

What we need now more than ever, though, is just that – the moral courage of both leaders and citizens to confront inconvenient truths and work together toward solutions with humility, grace, empathy, and an eye toward the common good. This is what can heal a divided nation. It is UMW’s mission to prepare a generation to do just that, to do its part to build a nation at peace with itself.

Let’s get back to work.

Sincerely,

Troy D. Paino
President

Comments

  1. Ronald Singleton says

    President Paino…Well said. So glad you chose to write these words for the Mary Washington community and beyond, offering a touchstone for our nation and our efforts as an educational institution. Thank you for your leadership and guidance during these times of uncertainty and national strife.