It's not us, it's you (and us)

Posted by James Rainey - 06 September, 2015

honorThe other day, I watched all 9th graders and new students truly enter Randolph's Upper School community as they signed their names on the Honor Pledge. When I spoke to the Upper School students at both the Honor Orientation and Honor Assembly gatherings, the two concepts that I wanted to impress upon them most were ownership and sustainability. What follows are my remarks at those events.

I read something a few weeks ago that profoundly affected me. It's a very simple framework for thinking about our world, and I shared it with the faculty and staff just as I am sharing it with you. It's an essay by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood titled "It's not climate change, it's everything change."

She writes this:

What are the implications for the way we view both ourselves and the way we live? In brief: in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. “I am what I make.” In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. “I am what I buy.” But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. “I am what I save and protect.” We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.

It's a very inviting framework for thinking about the transformation of our culture from one of consumption to one of stewardship. Increasingly, all of us in our lifetimes — and, more pointedly, in our lifestyles — will be thinking about questions of sustainability and conservation.

Atwood's essay also offers us a framework for considering the Honor System. If you are of the mindset of thinking that you are your job — that you are what you do — then you are a student, and a dishonest act is a risk to your position. If you think about yourself in terms of your possessions, then you are an owner, and a dishonest act is a risk to your property. But if you think about yourself in terms of stewardship, then a dishonest act is a risk not so much to you as to the greater community.

mailThe Honor System is like a fabric of very small links of chain, each one "forged" by an honest action taken at a moment of temptation to do something dishonest — and all of us negotiate these moments constantly in our lives — so that, in aggregate, our school community is protected by a kind of iron mesh of these individual acts of integrity.

When we are at our best, we are honest in a spirit of altruism and common purpose, not one of fear and self-interest. As a member of this community, you sustain the Honor System. It is not some remote authority. It is not a threat to you, but a gift held in trust.

Collectively we steward the Honor System, just as individually you steward your good name. I really can't stress these truths, and their interrelatedness, enough. Your name is precious, and any dishonorable act that you commit brings disrepute to your name, just as it weakens the Honor System as a whole by creating a gap in the mesh of chain links of which it consists. I would encourage you constantly to be protecting your good name. Do not be deceived that you live anonymously. This is not a community in which any individual can be invisible. You are accountable here. You are accountable to your good name. And the defense of your good name is a defense of our collective good name — a defense of Randolph School.

artAs I was driving here this morning, I passed a group of kindergarteners on their way to art class with Mr. Howse. They waved to me, and I waved back. I mention them here to emphasize that the Honor System is something that you steward. It's not all about you as an individual; it's about us as a community. It is a precious resource that all of us need to protect and defend going forward.

This should be your frame of mind, that there are children at this school much younger than you who will be inheritors of your good stewardship.

The Honor System is one of the principal assets that we enjoy as a community, and it is only as strong as the efforts of you, its guardians, to live with integrity.

Own and preserve the Honor System for those students who will follow you. The more you instill in yourself the habit of being honorable and strong, the more you will guarantee that you will be honorable and strong throughout your lifetime, and the more you will guarantee that our Honor System will be strong throughout the lifetime of Randolph School.

Topics: character, community, freshmen, Honor Code, mission, hono, honor pledge, Margaret Atwood, cognitive growth, tradition

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