An Honor Roll for Each of Us

Integrity Last month we celebrated the first Honors Chapel of our school year.  Over the years reactions to such events have become more diverse and complex, with various questions raised: In the case of recognition for good conduct, why do we honor students for things we expect of them as a matter of course?  Do we adults hold ourselves to the same standards for our behavior?  Regarding academic honors, why do we use grades as the sole criteria for recognition?  Does that not leave out some of our grittiest students whose persistence and achievement might not be fully recognized by the numbers?  Good questions indeed, and they usually inspire me to focus on inclusion in my remarks at these chapels.  At last month’s Honors Chapel I noted an “honor roll” available to everyone.  Dictionary.com’s first definition of “honor” reads as follows: honesty, fairness, and integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.

Living a life with honor is attainable for each of us, no matter our “grades.”  However, it is not necessarily an easy thing to do.  In fact, at least in my case, it has been a lifelong journey to live more honorably over time.  What has helped me immensely has been my spiritual practice to thank God each day for the gift of that day and to express my desire to live that day with honor.  At the end of the day, I spend a brief time reflecting prayerfully on whether I have truly lived it with honor.  I have days when my reflection is tinged with regret when I recognize the moments when I could have acted more honorably.  In those moments I pray that I may have the gift of another day on which I can once again commit to living it with honor.

I thought of those remarks again this month when I read the news that Dictionary.com had selected “xenophobia” as its Word of the Year: fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.  How sad that this is so, but it also serves as added inspiration to aspire to find a place on the one honor roll that really matters.

Until next time…

My best,
Leo

On Not Peaking Too Early

Students recognized at Honors Chapel.

Students recognized at Honors Chapel.

This past week we conducted our second quarter Honors Chapel for our middle school.  In many ways these chapels are always positive and consoling occasions.  But, I also find in myself a bit of tension about each such event, especially as I ponder the remarks I would like to make for the occasion.  The tension derives from a number of sources.  Does honoring students with grade point averages of a certain level contribute to excessive focus on grades vs. learning?  Does this honors chapel ritual contribute to students’ regarding their sense of identity and worth as measured by what they do rather than what they value?  Does this occasion contribute in some small way to the increasing obsession with resume-building that seems to be imposed on our students at an ever younger age?  I don’t want to overstate the level of tension, but I do believe strongly that there is benefit in pondering that tension.  It impels me and my colleagues to consider regularly how best to recognize, affirm, challenge, motivate- and yes, honor- our students.  (At this week’s chapel our middle school head did a masterful job of transcending that tension by including every student in his words of encouragement.)

We do not want our students to get ahead of themselves and to start thinking that they need to have everything figured out and are able to reach every measurable benchmark when they are so young.  We lament that our children are being forced to grow up too fast in our contemporary culture, but we sometimes contribute to that acceleration in our school culture. I have reminded parents on more than one occasion that no one ought to peak at the age of 14 (or 18 in the case of high school seniors).  How sad that would be! I owe my deceased mom thanks for that nugget of insight and wisdom.  Quite a few years ago I was appointed principal of my high school alma mater, a Jesuit school in St. Louis, a matter of months after completion of my training.  When my mom heard the news of my appointment, she posed this question to me: “Don’t you think you’re peaking too early?”  That query stung a bit at the time, but in retrospect she was absolutely correct.  I was getting ahead of myself- for a number of reasons I shall not belabor in this reflection.

Even at this stage of my life, I consider myself a work in progress.  How much truer is that reality for the young people in our charge?

Until next time…

My best,

Leo