Civil discourse

Governor Ned Lamont '72 and Governor Chris Sununu speak at evening assembly 

Patrick Garrity
October 26, 2023
governors speak at evening assembly

Rancor and disrespect often define political discourse in America today, but two politicians from opposite sides of the aisle showed Exeter that acrimony needn’t be the rule.

Governor Ned Lamont ’72 of Connecticut, a Democrat, and Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a Republican, took the Assembly Hall stage for an hourlong dialogue devoid of pique. The collegial discussion was co-hosted by the Academy’s Republican and Democratic clubs. Club co-heads Leo Braham ’24, Beverly Oleka ’25, Carter Otis ’24 and Natalie Welling ’24 took turns posing questions to the governors before a crowded hall.

The governors shared messages that mirror the Harkness learning principle of listening to understand, not simply to respond. Sununu asked the audience, “When you come to discussions, whether it’s like this or whether you’re going to have an argument on politics over family dinner or you’re just talking amongst friends, are you coming to have a discussion with a preconceived notion to get your own convictions validated? Or are you coming to the discussion to say, ‘Gee, this person might disagree with me. I wonder why. I wonder what the basis is.’ What’s the background? What’s the history with this individual and this issue that has gotten them from A to B to C that might be completely different from where you are?"

Academy’s Republican and Democratic clubs co-heads took turns posing questions to Lamont '72 and Sununu

The moderators asked questions on topics such as artificial intelligence, the opioid crisis, a livable wage, gun control and free speech. The governors hold differing views on several subjects. Lamont supports nationalized gun laws, for instance, and Sununu does not. Sununu rejects the practical importance of increasing the minimum wage, and Lamont says it “sends a signal to people that we value their work.” But the tone of the conversation remained respectful.

Lamont was asked how he responds to criticism of his fervent support for public education even though he “attended one of the wealthiest and most prestigious high schools in the nation."

“I think I went to one of the greatest high schools in America,” he said. “It was much more diverse than Syosset High School on Long Island where I would’ve come from. And I learned a lot about people. We were a little whiter and a hundred percent more male than it is today.

“At my age... it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you stand. And I think I’ve got a long record. People know where I stand on these issues so they can say, ‘Hey, you went to Exeter, you’re not like me.’ And they get to know you and they realize you’re fighting for them every day. ... I’m proud of where I came from, and I like to explain that to people every day.”

On the topic of free speech and tolerance for viewpoints different from our own, the governors agree.

“You all know what empathy is, right?” Sununu asked. “Do we practice empathy every day? Empathy is something to be practiced, right? We call it disagreeing better. We all need to disagree better.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.