White House, Capitol Hill Veterans Offer Guidance for Life After the Election

Campus sculpture with fall leaves in the background

Members of the Davidson College community on Wednesday were looking for what’s next after a bitter and unexpectedly close election night. A group from the college’s family drew on their own experience with vote totals—both joyous and painful—to offer some ideas. 

Dylan Glenn, a trustee and 1991 alum, served as special assistant for economic policy to President George W. Bush. He led three other members of the Davidson community who have served at the highest levels of the federal government as they coached students, faculty and staff in the audience to restore the sense of community and shared respect worn so threadbare.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who also served under Bush and is the parent of a Davidson alum, urged viewers to “get under the hood” of the issues that created such a charged election.

“Each of us has to decide, what are we personally going to do to heal the divide?” Spellings said. “We have an obligation. We all need to re-engage in what makes us passionate. And that means volunteering, but it also means engaging with each other. We can’t return to our silos. We need to figure out why we feel the way we do.”

A sense of humility and shared humanity makes these difficult conversations less threatening, said Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama and parent of a Davidson student.

“We’re all people made in the image of God. We are imbued with inalienable dignity,” he said.

“When we see each other that way, that makes interaction more fulfilling. Sometimes there’s no greater respect than when you tell someone precisely how you feel. If you feel that someone’s political views are misinformed, it is actually respectful to share your view.”

Gloria Nlewedim, a 2017 graduate of Davidson and now a senior staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, was in the Alvarez College Union on the night of the 2016 election and talked about how that night focused her energy.

“I realized that I needed to turn what I was feeling into fuel for action,” Nlewedim said. “And that’s what I want to encourage everyone to take away from this. [Whether] Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins the presidency, everyone needs to have a centering of what drives you, what do you believe in and why are you fighting for these things? Take that and turn it into action.”


McDonough urged the Davidson community to extend to the rest of the world the sense of community that has allowed the college to be so resilient in the face of the coronavirus.

“The same way you’re watching out for each other in the context of a pandemic,” he said, “I hope you’re watching out for each other in the context of a very robust national debate out of which we are going to get new answers to big questions.”