*Background story: At the last Honor Code discussion, I shared some stories from freshman year. After the program ended, I was asked to write a brief essay as a testament to the Honor Code functioning as it ought.*
The summer before my freshman year, I read the Handbook, ‘cause I’m the kind of guy who likes to know the rules. In my perusal of the rules, I discovered that young ladies were to be out of men’s apartments by 1:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 a.m. on the weekends. Mind you, my bedtime all through high school was 10 o’clock, so I thought that these were ridiculously lenient rules and highly unlikely to engender problems. I was wrong.
I signed the Honor Code with the rest of Churchill incoming at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, Central Park West and 67th, or thereabouts. I’m number 46 or 47 on that list. I still remember the thrill and solemnity of Ben Stubbs asking the men of Churchill to rise and stand in line behind the other houses. I also still remember the disbelief and vague discomfort in my heart when I later heard my roommate ask, “None of you guys actually meant any of that, did you?” Some of the group that had begun to form around our apartment left right then. I didn’t believe him. I thought to myself, “Of course he’ll follow the Honor Code (and the Handbook). They’re very simple rules. Why should he be bothered?” As it turns out, the rules were a little more complicated than I expected.
In those days, we were four to a room. JC, Departed Roommate A, Departed Roommate B and me were all stuffed into 4C1. I may have been the tallest guy, but I’m not sure that I was the heaviest. It was cramped. JC and I had absorbed our parents’ good instruction. Our Departed Roommates had not. JC and I were good Protestants. The now departed were disaffected Catholics. Obviously, we were a schismatic room. The important part is that B was mad at God, and I did very little to demonstrate Love to him. So, first lesson: know whom you represent. If you claim the name of Christ, you claim to follow Absolute Truth and Absolute Love. Act accordingly.
To focus on the Honor Code infractions…The Departed took pleasure as their purpose in life, which regularly included being up to all hours of night. Somewhere along the line, A hauled into our living room a mattress he found in the trash room, and a system developed: JC and I would retire to the bedroom for homework at our desks around eleven or so and go to bed around midnight while A and B carried on in the living room with a few of the girls until about three; next morning, I’d step over A or a girl on the floor mattress. This was much of the semester. Obviously, this was against the rules. So I did something about it.
I went and told Nick Swedick, my chamberlain. “A and B have C and D until way too late at night, and I have to step over her in the morning, and I think they’re doing all this other stuff, really, this shouldn’t be happening. So, discipline them!” He refused. I had never confronted A or B about the problems inherent in their behavior. A week or so later, I tried to go over Nick’s head to Leedy, then Assistant Dean and, as now Churchill House adviser. He asked me what Nick had told me. I told him that Nick wouldn’t do anything because I hadn’t confronted my roommates. Leedy turned me back around and told me that I needed to take responsibility and confront them myself.
Eventually, I did. And it was hard. They all asked me, “Why didn’t you say something sooner? How did this just become a problem?” All that I could answer was that I hadn’t had the courage to do what I ought to have done.
As it turns out, A and B were administratively withdrawn from all their classes and asked to leave as soon as we came back from Thanksgiving break. I’ve not seen them since, except rarely on Facebook.
So, why am I writing this confession? A couple reasons. Among them: Fisher Derderian asked me to do so. I’d shared a version of the story at the last Honor Code open discussion, and Nick’s actions seemed worth remembering. Nick’s refusal to let me remain a coward has been hugely important in my life, and a testament to the Honor Code. Justice can’t be served dishonestly.
Another thing: I still don’t think I did right by A and B. I pray for them, their restoration and salvation as often as I think of them, at least twice a week. I ask of the “goodie two-shoes” that they remember the length of human life and what harm they might cause.
To all students: take the Honor Code seriously. It’s not just about property rights. Honor is about living rightly before God and men. At this point, I could go off on a long lecture about the history and nature of honor, and how it’s a baptized pagan thing rather than a biblical concept, or about how annoying your shenanigans are. I want to emphasize the pain, though; because I have failed to uphold virtue in my life, I’ve not been able to encourage the pursuit of virtue for many of you. I also leave you with my favorite verse from Scripture, particularly the Hebrew Bible, Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”