President Chabotar’s Charge to the Class of 2010
Integrity. It’s a Quaker testimony. It’s a College core value. It’s emblazoned on the banners that line the walk to founders like sentinels protecting our community and conscience. Integrity is more than just telling no lies. It’s more than not slandering your friends or not falsely claiming high-ceilinged principles when you’re really playing for power. It’s more than just believing; it is also about doing especially when no one is looking. What, then, is integrity?
- Tell the truth. Check your facts. Ditch gossip masquerading as news. H.L. Mencken was wrong when he claimed that common sense and honesty make you ineligible for public office. More practically, remember it’s easier to tell the truth than to keep track of your lies.
- Do the right thing. Be a good steward. Be noble and kind. Do not be one of those cowards willing, as Alexander Pope once wrote, “to damn with faint praise…Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike.”
- Stand up for what you believe. Don’t be quiet when others make hateful remarks. Speak your mind despite the risk. “Freedom of speech” may be protected in the constitution but it’s meaningless unless you use it. Here’s a test. Would you have the guts to take the same position on gun control or abortion if the room was full of Justice Scalias and Rush Limbaughs as you would if surrounded by Al Sharptons and Nancy Pelosis?
- Have your actions match your promises. Honesty is saying what you really think. “I believe in protecting the environment.” Integrity is following through so that you recycle, conserve energy, and promote clear air and water even if it’s an inconvenient hassle. In today’s idiom, integrity is “walking the talk,” and “putting your money where your mouth is.”
- Accept responsibility. Don’t blame others for your failures. You know the type: why admit error when you can whine you were screwed. Ambrose Bierce once sarcastically defined responsibility as a “detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor.” He said astrologers often tried unloading responsibility upon a star. I say try unloading it on yourself.
- Insist that others to do the same. Set high standards. Don’t let bad behavior slide. How would you like to have a lawyer who cheated on the bar exam or a doctor who skated through med school because no one ever called a time out for their bad behavior?
Peer pressure can be the worst enemy of integrity. What’s the harm? Just do it. That’s the siren song of Oscar Wilde who claimed that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. No wonder that peer pressure often prevails; our culture encourages it. On TV, Dr. House MD claims that everyone lies and that the only variable is about what. But peer pressure can also be integrity’s best friend. That’s not honest. Not going to do that. Wouldn’t be prudent.
Integrity is not about genes so don’t blame your ancestors if you do not have it. Integrity is a choice you make. Consider these stories:
In a national championship, golfing legend Bobby Jones drove his ball into the woods, and unintentionally nudged it. No one noticed him move the ball. But he still penalized himself one stroke. It lost him the game. When complimented for his integrity, he retorted, “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. But she is best known for voting against the entry of the United States into both world wars. Against World War I, she had plenty of company. 49 other representatives also voted no. Against World War II, in a vote taken the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, she was alone. The vote was 388-1. She said, “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Can you imagine the abuse she took? I can. My uncle was at Pearl Harbor. You can criticize her politics and her judgment. But you cannot criticize her integrity.
Edmund Ross cast the deciding vote in the United States Senate that ended the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Let’s re-visit the moment. One more vote is needed for conviction. The Chief Justice intones, “Mr. Senator Ross, how say you? ‘Is the respondent, Andrew Johnson, guilty or not guilty of a high misdemeanor as charged in this article?” The chamber falls silent and everyone stares and waits. Then the answer comes, clear and unmistakable, “Not guilty,” and the president was saved. Ross reasoned that if Congress could remove a president with questionable evidence based on partisan conflict, the presidency would be ruled by whatever faction was in power. Ross’s action cost him re-election. His family were shunned and impoverished when they went home to Kansas. But he did the right thing.
The Ross story was one of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. To paraphrase the book’s closing passage: The stories of past courage can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage or integrity itself. For this, you must look into your own soul.
There you have it. Tell the truth. Do the right thing. Stand up for what you believe. Have your actions match your promises. Accept responsibility. Insist that others to do the same.
For the Class of 2010, this moment is not sunset but dawn. The sun climbs off the horizon and begins its every day journey.
The Class of 2010 is about to begin your own journey. For you, integrity and other life challenges, as C.S. Lewis said about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, will come like lightning out of a clear sky. Be not afraid. You are ready. You are ready to use your education. You are ready for work or school. You are ready to pay back not just your student loans but also the support your friends and family gave you unsparingly. You are ready to pay it forward so others get the opportunities you did. You are ready to live, laugh, and love. You are ready to make a difference and be the change.
In sum, and fixing a word or two of what Churchill once said, The Class of 2010 is ready to meet the world. Whether the world is prepared for the great adventure of meeting the Class of 2010 is quite another matter.
But here you go. God bless you, and good luck.
May 8, 2010