“A Matter of Honor”

2010 Presidential Convocation Address
Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Alabama
August 25, 2010

Well, first year students, entering class: This one’s for you. Huntingdon College is defined by many traditions, and today’s gathering — the Presidential Convocation (convocation means “a calling together”) — is something we do every year during the first week of class to remind ourselves of what college is all about. First year friends, we do this to bring you inside the circle where the rest of us have lived for one year, two years, three years, eight years, or in the case of one of our faculty, 38 years.

The studying, the playing, the praying; the thinking, the competing, the singing; the learning, the learning, the learning — whenever, wherever, however it all takes place: What is the point of it all? Why do we crowd together on these 68 acres four months in the fall semester and four months in the spring semester? What makes college “college,” and what makes Huntingdon “Huntingdon”?

The last time you, my first year friends, gathered in this chapel was just a little less than a week ago on Friday. You stood together, you said the Honor Code together, you signed the Honor Code together, you walked out of this chapel and across the bridge and up The Green onto Top Stage where you will, one day, graduate. You pledged to live the rest of your time at this College as a person of honor, in a community of honor, in a neighborhood of honor if you will. No small pledge, promise, commitment this matter of honor.

Just what did you commit yourself to be, to do, when you signed your name to these words and promised to live by these words which I now read again to you?

The Honor Code (your pledge began) is founded on the principle that the ultimate responsibility for abiding by the behavioral expectations of the College lies with the student.

As a student of Huntingdon College, I hereby dedicate myself to the principles of Honesty, Integrity, Responsibility, and Stewardship in all aspects of my life. I will be accountable for all that I say, write, and do. I resolve to keep myself above reproach, realizing that my words and actions impact others’ perceptions of this institution. I will participate actively in the efforts of Huntingdon College to fulfill its mission of Faith, Wisdom, and Service.

Just what did you commit yourself to be, to do?

Case Studies

Honor Case Study #1: It’s 2:15 A.M. on Saturday, and compliments of the generously liberal and permissive visitation policy of the College — another long tradition at Huntingdon — you have been hosting a member of the opposite sex in your residence hall room for…shall we say, a number of hours. Your roommate, surely one of the most polite, patient and long-suffering individuals with whom you could have ever been matched by the Office of Student Life, has knocked on the outside of the door of the room he shares with you and said quietly (so as not to wake up those on the hall who are actually sleeping): “Fifteen more minutes.”

As a person of honor, committed to living in a neighborhood of honor, where the responsibility for doing the honorable thing lies with…you…what ARE you going to do in response to that knock on the door at 2:15…and then again when 2:30 — the official kick-out time — rolls around, as it always does?

What ARE you going to do, person of honor?

Honor Case Study #2: It’s the week your first long written research assignment is due. You’re probably going to declare Mathematics as your major, and you’ve never really enjoyed writing papers. But over the years in high school, you worked hard on your writing skills; and for this paper you’ve actually visited Dr. Shoop at the Writing Center to ask for her help on several grammar issues. You weren’t going to go, but a classmate dragged you there because she didn’t want to ask for help all by herself. So you went to the Writing Center, and you feel pretty good about the work you are getting ready to turn in. Still, you are nervous as you walk to class; this paper is, after all, your first big college paper. And it’s 25 per cent of your grade in the course.

As you walk across the parking lot, you see one of your new friends from down the hall in Blount bouncing out the front door of Searcy, waving at you with some rolled up papers in her hand and shouting: “I can’t believe how good my paper is!” This young woman is the same person who came up to you yesterday afternoon in the library, in tears, worrying about how she was going to find the time before the next morning to start her research. Now she’s Freshman Scholar-in-Residence.

“I was so worried in the library yesterday when I saw you that I thought I was going to throw up. I just knew I was going to flunk this assignment. What would I have done without him?”

“Without who”?

“He was so nice. You know, he’s an English major. And had the highest ACT at his high school. We just changed his paper around some. Mine doesn’t really sound like his at all. I can’t believe what a writer he is! W…h…e…w! What a relief! I am so excited about how good my paper is!”

And off she flies to Flowers Hall, Room 101, to turn in “her” paper.

“As a student of Huntingdon College, I hereby dedicate myself to the principles of Honesty {and} Integrity….” Now, let me ask you: As a person of honor, committed to living in a neighborhood of honor, where the responsibility for doing the honorable thing lies with…you…lies with ALL of you who sit in class together….what ARE you going to do?

Honor Case Study #3: The weather has just turned cold, and everyone has started wearing heavy coats around campus. So much to take in and out of pockets, to keep up with all day — keys, meal card, pens, cell phone, money. You’re always dropping things, always thinking you’ve lost something, breathing a sigh of relief when you find it at the bottom of your coat pocket.

“What’s that lying in the drive in front of the fountain? Just a wad of balled-up paper. J. Cam is such a trash cop, he’s probably eyeballing it from his office window. I’ll just pick it up and throw it away; if I walk by it, I know he’ll make some comment the next time he sees me. Nah, his lights are off. Let somebody else do it. Oh, what the hey; I’ll pick it up, anyway.”

Actually, what you have found is five wadded up $20 bills which — in the cold weather — probably fell out of someone’s pocket while he was reaching in for his keys, or his pen, or his cell phone, or whatever. Now you are holding $100 which, just a short moment ago, you believed to be a wad of balled up trash being eyeballed by J. Cam the trash cop. Who’s not in his office. What to do? You look around. It’s after 5:00 in the afternoon, almost dark, no one in Flowers Hall that you can see. All those parking tickets you could pay. And speaking of tickets, now you have a chance to go to the Iron Bowl. Tomatino’s, Sinclair’s, El-Ray’s. Oh, the choices. That $100 has your name on it.

Or does it?

“Maybe I should just take it to Security. But what would Security do with five wadded up $20 bills? Who in Security is going to believe anybody who walks in and says, “I lost
$100 on campus yesterday”? Right. What does Security do with unclaimed money, anyway? I need it more than the College needs it. I wonder if anyone saw who dropped that money?”

“As a student of Huntingdon College, I…will be accountable for all that I…do. I resolve to keep myself above reproach….”

“But who’s watching me?”

Let me ask you: Does it MATTER if anybody is watching you?

End of Honor Case Studies.


This past Monday, after lunch on the first day of classes, Dr. Murphy and I stopped to talk outside by The Green. I asked her how the first meeting with her PACT class had gone — that’s “Practicing the Art of Critical Thinking,” our new first year seminar — and in the course of the conversation she mentioned that her students would be listening for the “P,” the “point” I would be making in my Presidential (that’s with a “P”) Convocation address. Later that afternoon, Dean Fedler announced in our senior staff meeting that several PACT sections, in fact, had been given assignments very much like Dr. Murphy’s.

I’ll be all ears after you get back together — students and faculty — in those sections of PACT. I’ll be all ears…ready and eager to hear if what I have intended to say is what, indeed, you have heard.

The only hints I will give you are these: I’ve been trying to help us all bring our first year friends into the circle, into the neighborhood. I’ve been trying to help us remember what college is all about. I’ve been trying to talk about what makes Huntingdon “Huntingdon.” I’ve been talking about a matter of honor.

I would ask you, my first year neighbors, to come sometime early in the semester and sit with me in my office, in the dining hall, at a sports event, out on The Green — or even yet, faculty, give me the privilege of sitting for a little while with you and your students in your PACT classes. Tell me what “honor” means. Tell me what “honor” looks like in your residence hall room; in your class; in the library; on the court, or field, or course; in your sorority or fraternity chapter room; just walking across campus. Tell me why “honor” can be so difficult to live by. Tell me why we are a college – a collegium — a neighborhood of learners — only if we are bound together and live together by honor.

I’ll listen to you, and I’ll talk with you. And by the time we have finished listening to each other and talking with each other, we will have figured out together the point of it all. The big “P.”

Thank you for coming today and for listening to what I have had to say. Now please join me in singing the Huntingdon College Alma Mater. The words are printed in your program.

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