Q&A with former Senator Mark Pryor (‘81)


Courtesy Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor graduated from Whitman in 1981, and served as a Senator from 2003 to 2015 (D-Arkansas). He now works as a partner at the law firm Venable LLP.

By Ben Waldman

Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) served in the Senate from 2003 to 2015. Pryor attended Whitman from 1978 to 1981, while his father, David Pryor (D-Arkansas), served in the Senate. Because of his father’s political career, Mark split his childhood between Little Rock, Arkansas, and D.C. He attended Little Rock Central High School to start high school, before transferring to Whitman halfway through his sophomore year. Pryor now works as a partner for the D.C. law firm Venable. 

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.


B&W: What was it like, constantly moving between Arkansas and Bethesda?

Mark Pryor: I experienced a very severe culture shock in high school, when I moved from Little Rock to D.C. The demographics in Bethesda are completely different from what I grew up with in Little Rock. One of the biggest differences was that at Whitman, everybody was expected to go to college. That was not the case at all in Little Rock: maybe a third or so of the kids went on to college. In Little Rock, we also had a very, very small Jewish population and a pretty small Catholic population. It was primarily Protestant. So, when I came to Whitman, it was a third Catholic and a third Jewish, and then a third everything else, including Hindus and Presbyterians like me. It was a very good experience for me.


B&W: Do you have a favorite high school memory?

MP: There were a lot of very strong memories from my time at Whitman. I ran for student council president, and won. It was kind of amazing, because I was pretty much brand new in school. Whitman was that kind of place where people could come and find their own way, and they could experiment to try new things. I remember how academically driven people were there.


B&W: How did your time at Whitman influence your life in politics?

MP: In Arkansas, my dad was governor. When your last name is Pryor, and the governor’s last name is Pryor, people are kind of watching you. When I came to Whitman, and not a soul knew me, it was actually wonderful. It was very refreshing, and it relieved a lot of pressure. In Arkansas, I had all these expectations — but not at Whitman, and that was nice.


B&W: What advice would you give to Whitman students who are looking to get involved in politics?

MP: There’s no substitute for hard work. Just work hard and get as much life experience as you can. If someone wants to do politics, they should get out of their comfort zone. They should go to places and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do. I’m Presbyterian; I went to Catholic churches when I was in D.C. because I’d never been to those before, but I wanted to try them. It made me appreciate how different the world is outside of my four walls.


B&W: What advice would you give students who can vote in the upcoming Democratic primaries?

MP: Every single person should vote because it matters. Every vote counts. It’s easy to vote today because there are all kinds of options like early voting. There’s really no excuse anymore. If you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear you complaining; you’re in no position to complain.

There are people all over this world who can’t vote and have no say in their government, and we should respect and appreciate the fact that we do. Try to vote for the best person who’s gonna make the best decisions; it’s about character and it’s about integrity. Our whole system is based on character and integrity. At the end of the day, make a gut decision on who you trust to make the right calls.