Commentary: It’s within our power to craft a more civil future for PA

The outgoing president of the Pennsylvania Society reflects on how her tenure has made her optimistic about what is to come in the commonwealth and the country.

Elizabeth Preate Havey

Elizabeth Preate Havey MarencoPhoto

As Pennsylvania and our nation brace for a presidential election season unlike any other, one thing unlikely to be in large supply is civility. It’s almost as if that’s become a dirty word in politics. Bipartisanship is hard enough. Civility? That seems at times unattainable.

And yet, as my two-year term as president of The Pennsylvania Society comes to a close, I find myself considerably more hopeful that the next generation of public servants will seek to restore some civil order. In fact, I’m counting on them to deliver if we are to attract talented young people to careers in public service in communities all across Pennsylvania.

My hopefulness stems from our emerging leaders under the age of 35 who have become more active with PA Society in recent years. These are bright young men and women who crave opportunities to discuss and find solutions for difficult issues of the day but in a forum that prioritizes the type of civil behavior that is part of the very fabric of this organization, where civility is imbued in our more than 125-year history.

This hasn’t happened by accident. As I look back on my term, I am most proud to have led the creation of PA Society’s Keystone Committee, comprised of young members from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia – and points in-between – to help guide new initiatives focused on engaging the next generation of Society leaders.

For many years, Allegheny College, one of the nation’s oldest liberal arts colleges located in northwest Pennsylvania, bestowed a Prize for Civility in Public Life. It was born out of research that showed a troubling rise of incivility in U.S. politics, and its negative impacts on political participation, particularly among young people.

Allegheny researchers found that young people are extraordinarily service-oriented. Yet while volunteerism was up among young people, political participation was down. That is a trend we must reverse. And I truly believe that Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, want and need civility in politics.

So, count me among the hopeful. I am hopeful because of Pennsylvanians like Taylor Cobb in Philadelphia and Matthew Wachter in Erie. Taylor, whose diverse career spans business development, fundraising and media, and Matthew, an executive with the Carnegie Foundry, are among our Keystone Committee members who share a deep affection for our state, pride in giving back to the commonwealth and a commitment to civil engagement. They are active in their respective communities and are desirous of creating greater opportunities for younger Pennsylvanians to attend Society events by lowering the boundaries to entry and making membership more accessible to those 35 and under.

The Pennsylvania Society is a special place. Unaffiliated with any particular political party, business or profession, PA Society is simply a place where Pennsylvanians from all backgrounds come together to celebrate service to the commonwealth and to humanity in general. I am proud to say it is still growing and thriving in its third century of existence, the longest-enduring organization of its kind in the country.

And thanks to our Keystone Committee, we are well positioned for the future, with charity, community and, yes, civility as our pillars.

Elizabeth Preate Havey, an attorney at Dilworth Paxson, is the outgoing president of The Pennsylvania Society.