A Virtual Founder’s Day, Focused on a Historic Election

On October 29, students and faculty gathered not in Rousmaniere Hall, but over Zoom, tuning in from home for an unusual—but edifying—Founder’s Day celebration. In this historic year, with a consequential presidential election forthcoming, the day’s programming focused on various elements related to the election process in the United States—both in this year, and in decades past. Topics ranged from the Electoral College to polling, from the 19th Amendment to running a campaign, from the right to vote to what to look for on Election Night in 2020.

The day began with a pre-recorded rendition of “For All the Saints,” featuring the vocals of former RL boys, and with a traditional Founder’s Day introduction by Headmaster Kerry Brennan, which honored Roxbury Latin’s founder, John Eliot, and his legacy. Dr. Alex Keyssar—the Matthew Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School—began the day with a keynote address focused on two foundational topics: the history of the right to vote in the United States, and the Electoral College—its origins and its viability today. An historian by training, Dr. Keyssar specializes in the exploration of historical problems that have contemporary policy implications. His book, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, was named the best book in U.S. history by both the American Historical Association and the Historical Society and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2004-2005, Dr. Keyssar chaired the Social Science Research Council’s National Research Commission on Voting and Elections, and he writes frequently for the popular press about American politics and history. Dr. Keyssar’s latest book, titled Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? was published this year by Harvard University Press. Dr. Keyssar delivered a rich and engaging address, and stayed on for a lively and extended Q&A session with the students. You can view the entirety of Dr. Keyssar’s presentation and Q&A here.

After lunch, students heard from Dave Paleologos, long-time director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, where he leads efforts to conduct statewide polls and bellwether survey analyses in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Suffolk’s presidential primary polls have predicted outcomes in many key battleground states, and their survey results have been reported on by hundreds of major news organizations. Its bellwether model, authored by Mr. Paleologos, is used both locally and nationally and has an 85% accuracy rating in predicting winners. Mr. Paleologos talked with students about how polling is done, as well as what to look for in battleground states—and what towns and counties, in particular, to keep an eye on as bellwether voting areas, as we anticipate results on Election Night. You can view the entirety of Mr. Paleologos’s presentation here.

Later in the afternoon, students and faculty enjoyed a panel discussion on what it takes to run for public office, and how to run a successful campaign. Panelists included Former Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur; former Massachusetts State Treasurer and former national chairman of the Democratic National Committee Steve Grossman; and RL alumnus Dennis Kanin ’64, who served as campaign manager for the presidential campaign of former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas and served as Tsongas’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. After the panelist presentation—and after our guests answered lots of good questions from the boys—Mr. Kanin treated all to a preview of “What to Look for on Election Night.” His presentation focused on key battleground states; the various pathways to the presidency—to securing the required 270 electoral votes—for both Trump and Biden; and the potential scenarios if the election remains contested for many days or weeks. You can view the entirety of the panel discussion and of Mr. Kanin’s presentation here.

Rounding out the day was a session—and various online media—related to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and the Women’s Suffrage movement, led by Mrs. Berg, as well as a report on the results of RL’s own mock election by Mr. Piper. Students competed in Kahoots! quizzes throughout the day in homerooms, testing their knowledge on past presidents and national elections through questions crafted by Mr. Brennan. In the closing moments of the day’s program, the top winners in each class competed for the Kahoots! championship, which was secured by Frankie Gutierrez (II).