Class of '81
Nearly 30 years ago, they were the extraordinary teens of their generation—the class leaders, the valedictorians, the captains of the football teams, the royalty of the high school halls who seemed to have all the gifts to go far. So how far did they get?
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Walt Whitman High School student government president
The head of Walt Whitman’s senior class is now serving his second term as a U.S. senator, representing the state of Arkansas. It’s a position his father, David Pryor, held for 18 years.
Mark Pryor moved from Arkansas, where his dad had been governor, to the Sumner neighborhood of Bethesda in 1979. He started 10th grade at Whitman, where “people ridiculed me for my accent.” If anyone knew his father was a senator, they didn’t care. “They didn’t know the difference between Arkansas and Alabama,” he jokes.
Pryor went on to the University of Arkansas, where he earned a law degree. He practiced civil litigation and immigration law at Wright, Lindsey & Jennings in Little Rock, served four years in the Arkansas House of Representatives and was the state’s attorney general for four years.
In many ways, his path was anticipated. “I knew in high school I wanted to go back to Arkansas,” says Pryor, who commutes from Little Rock and stays in Washington, D.C., when Congress is in session. “Most people go off to go to college. I went off to go to high school. I knew I wanted to go [back] to law school, and my path was pretty predictable from there.”
Life has a way of throwing each of us the occasional curveball, however. In 1996, Pryor was diagnosed with a form of melanoma that has a survival rate of “less than 50 percent.” Now cancer-free, “I help anytime I can with facilitating cancer research,” he says, lending his name to fundraisers and working toward legislation to fund research.
Having cancer deepened Pryor’s already strong faith. “Public service was definitely his calling,” says longtime family friend Sheila Anthony, an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration and wife of former Arkansas congressman Beryl Anthony Jr. “But Mark easily could have been a minister.”