Living With Integrity When No One is Watching

Posted by Jon Kunz on Sep 24, 2018 3:15:24 PM
Jon Kunz

As we slip back into our school routines as individuals and as families, it is fun to reflect on this past summer and it’s many wondrous moments. One moment, though, that impacted me emotionally more than any other was the passing of John McCain. Maybe it is because Senator McCain is an alum of St. Stephen’s School. This probably added to my emotions, certainly, as I watch my own children thrive at his old school. But If you strip away all political persuasions when reflecting on John McCain, what you are a left with is a servant of the people who valued honor and integrity above all else. His dedication to honor and the pursuit of a greater cause is what truly impacted my emotions.

My favorite quote by Senator McCain, in his book “Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir” reads:

“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

In so many ways, this captures the essence of Senator McCain’s former community, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School. Much of what is referenced here circles back to character development molded and refined in environments that foster honor and integrity. Is also reflects the embrace of community. Or, in other words, thrusting your personal stake or brand (i.e. belief system) behind an established mission that creates a desire to shed one’s individual ambition for communal ambition.

Last week, one of our alums, Cam Burley, class of 2004, spoke to our high school students about the importance of our honor code. The students at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School know the honor code well. It is referenced many times each year. The honor code reads as follows:

“As a member of the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School Community, I pledge that I will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.”

What struck the most about Cam’s words was his focus on the gray. His message was simple yet complex - it is easy to choose right and wrong; but the choice is much more demanding when black and white mix to create gray. In essence, Cam was testing our students. What do they do when no one is watching or accounting for their actions? What would they do when faced with scenarios where untruth could be spun into truth? What does it say about their honor and integrity if they follow the honor code not because of what they believe, but rather what they are told?

Cam’s task to our upper school students was to repudiate the gray. Regardless of situation, live with honor and integrity. Embrace black and white; right and wrong. The sooner they (our students) learn to do so, the sooner they liberate themselves from personal gain conflicting with the larger, humane cause. In so doing, I happen to know of one, silver haired past St. Stephen’s student who would look down upon our current students and grin.


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