Politics & Government

St. Mark’s Headmaster (Indirectly) Addresses Alt-Right-Founding Alumnus

David Dini handled the controversy well.


You may have heard of Richard Spencer. He’s the white nationalist who is given credit for founding the alt-right movement. Over the weekend, about 200 people met in D.C. at a conference staged by Spencer. Here is how the New York Times described a speech he gave Saturday night:

He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

Spencer is a graduate of St. Mark’s, a fact that I believe was first pointed out in a recent Mother Jones profile. When that story came out, I teased a number of Markesmen I know about this dubious distinction. In response, one of them passed along the below letter to alumni from St. Mark’s headmaster David Dini. He sent it Friday, in preparation for Thanksgiving. While he didn’t name Spencer, Dini clearly had him in mind when he wrote this. It’s a nice piece of work and offers some thoughts we’d all do well to bear in mind, so I thought I’d share:

As we prepare to break for the Thanksgiving holidays, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to you and reflect on the many blessings we enjoy at St. Mark’s. This week the Junior Class once again led a very successful McDonald’s Week with activities that brought together boys of all ages, parents, faculty, and Hockaday students, to raise money for Austin Street Shelter. Yesterday, we gathered the whole School community in the Great Hall to celebrate Thanksgiving Convocation, and as I look out my window at The Path to Manhood statue, I see the smiling faces of family members who’ve come from around the world to participate in Grandparents’ Day with our boys.

The first half of the school year has certainly been fulfilling. Students continue to thrive and contribute across the campus, stretching themselves in every way possible and developing into character-driven men. Some of the notable highlights include: Gopal Raman ’17 being recognized in a White House ceremony as one of only five National Student Poets, preparations for the Science Center expansion, including the construction of the new Winn Science Center, last week’s Evensong that highlighted the Roosevelt Family Organ and the largest Choir in several decades, and finalization of Goals for St. Mark’s IV strategic plan for the future. We’ve also honored two St. Mark’s legends who are celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries as educators, Frank Jordan and J.T. Sutcliffe, and welcomed a tremendous group of new teachers that build on the strength, character, and commitment of our current faculty.

As we look to the future and wrestle with the challenges of our time, it is important to reflect on who we are as a School community. The divisiveness and incivility that has permeated our society presents both challenges and opportunities. As a School firmly rooted in the mission of educating young men who will make a positive difference in the world, our work has never been more important. One of the hallmarks of our School is that we treat one another with great care and respect, honoring our important differences while at the same time focusing on the common values and principles that bind us together.

In recent days and weeks, you may have seen the School’s name mentioned in news articles that featured ideas contrary to fundamental values we hold dear. As you know, St. Mark’s is a diverse community, deeply committed to including and valuing students of different backgrounds, races, religions, beliefs, and experiences. I want you to know that our commitment to these ideals is paramount and immutable.

Throughout the course of this fall, we’ve been mindful of our responsibility to give Marksmen the preparation they will need not only for success in college, but more importantly the fundamental concepts, virtues, and skills to serve and lead in adult life. I saw an example of this recently when boys in Lower School Chapel were asked to define empathy, and a first grader raised his hand and said, “It’s when you feel what someone else feels, and then you do something about it.” I can’t imagine saying it any better. And thankfully, this is what we see in our boys every day.

I want to thank you for your unwavering support as we work together to advance the mission of our School, and wish you and your family a peaceful, joyous, and blessed Thanksgiving. I look forward to seeing you on campus soon.

With great appreciation,

David W. Dini