We Are One Community

Upon my arrival at Hotchkiss in the summer of 2011, as the spouse of an incoming math teacher with three small children, I realized this was to be an eye-opening experience. I grew up in a smaller conservative town on the West coast and had voted Republican my entire life. I have been politically active as long as I can remember, with one of my first politically meaningful experiences working on the Bob Dole presidential campaign during college. I had passed on an opportunity to work on another presidential campaign right before I arrived at Hotchkiss.

In the fall of 2011, the word leaked that I was a Republican and I was asked by the then-heads to be the faculty advisor to the Hotchkiss Republicans club. They said at the time that they could not find anyone else willing. Early on, I was warned that I was sealing my fate by taking the role and yet did not fully apprehend what that could mean. As time passed, it became clear that some saw my decision to support this club as a sign to stay away. Like every contentious choice I have made in my life, I have no regret for staying true to myself, consequences included.

As I prepare to say goodbye to Hotchkiss, I am filled with gratitude. Anyone who has attended a phenomenal speaker, listened to a student’s testimony of what Hotchkiss has meant to them, taken a walk by the lake, or seen the growing impact the experience has on students understands this.

As we navigate such polarizing times, I am disheartened that we fail to see we have far more that binds us than divides us. Our life experiences form so much of our view of the world. I am a conservative, because my life experiences and the people that surrounded me shaped me early on. The connections I have made at Hotchkiss have opened my eyes to the different backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, and beliefs that make people who they are. It is approaching this diversity with an open mind and open heart that makes the experience life-changing. (Thank you, Julia Wu Trethaway).

The 2016 election was the most trying time for me as the faculty advisor. I wanted to support the students in the club as the broad field of Republican candidates challenged the tone at meetings. Early on, I fell in line and supported a Republican primary candidate who did not make it to the White House. Decorum matters to me, and I struggled early on to back the President. I held my views to myself and defended students who were challenged for supporting President Trump publicly. That November, I cast my first vote for a Democrat. Not because I was “with her,” but because I was grappling with being “with him.” The week after the election, we had an open community meeting for students to discuss the election results. I was personally feeling unsettled and discouraged but kept my sentiments sheltered and encouraged the Republicans on campus who were overjoyed and failed to notice the opposition. At that meeting, the temperature was hot; many students were astonished that anyone could support a candidate they saw as vile. The room was packed. Personal experiences poured out; one multi-year club member expressed that a vote for Trump was a choice for his father to keep food on the table, and Trump’s morality was not on his radar.

We live in ominous times. We tend to cocoon ourselves within groups, news sources, and information that reinforce our perspective. I challenge us all to reach past our own worldview and take a minute to hear someone else’s viewpoint. Pause and listen to understand rather than respond or defend. Try and learn from where they come. Do not write people off with any defined label. Do not consign people to a particular belief or way of thinking based on a preconceived notion you have constructed. When I was on the receiving end of that here, it felt like I was drowning and was expected to defend views I never held. Support one another. We are all seeking validation; we are all vulnerable; we are one community, and we owe one another better than yielding to ill-conceived perceptions and labels. Get to know your fellow Bearcats, especially those who think differently from you.

I am a father, husband, son, brother, mortgage lender, and a proud Bearcat. I am glad I listened and heard so many of you. I am changed because I did. I will cast my vote this year for President Trump, not because I like him the man more than I did in 2016, but because I promote free-market principles and abhor regulation and overreach, and for me, he is the more suitable choice. Try and respect me, and I will respect you and recognize we are in this together. We are capable of more respect and admiration for each other than we often allow. To this incredible institution, I say thank you for a challenging and gratifying experience. Observing how Hotchkiss transforms students in their time here is why I am so indebted to every person who has dedicated their lives to making that a reality. To the Class of 2020, make us proud, and don’t neglect to reflect on all of the significant moments that shaped you, educated you, and made you strong. We are all fortunate to have spent time here and are all the better for it.

Ryan Perrenoud, P’22

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