speech given at Convocation by Julia Thayer '18, Head of Student Body
Good morning students and faculty, parents and friends, and welcome to the opening day of the 2017-2018 Academic School year at Stoneleigh Burnham. Earlier this summer, I received an email from Sally, reminding me that as the president of Student Council, one of my responsibilities is to, quote, “say a few words about what the Honor Code means to me, as a Stoneleigh Burnham Student.” But… I am not really going to do that today. Sally and I had a meeting in which we agreed that it may prove more valuable for me to discuss what the Honor Code means to me as a person, not just as an SBS student. The code itself demands that its principles are followed not just in student life but life in general, as exemplified in a quote from the very first paragraph, “I know that the principles of the Honor Code extend beyond the physical bounds of the campus.”
Students, the gravity of this quote most likely will not strike you until you are in a situation off campus in which your honor and core values are being tested. It will happen to all of you, I can guarantee it. Life is amazing 99 percent of the time, but once in awhile it throws in some challenges that will test your character and determination to stay true to yourself and your beliefs, both personal and those instilled in you throughout your time here at SBS. When I look out into the audience today, I see a group of capable individuals, prepared to overcome that challenge. Even if you feel that you are not capable of doing so, know that your friends, teachers, and everyone at Stoneleigh-Burnham has faith in you. There have been times throughout my six years at this school when I felt pressured to do something that I knew was not right. Sometimes I felt pressured to do something small on campus, like walking through Lower Mary Burnham with my friends in the winter as an Upper Schooler, even though I knew we weren’t supposed to be on a middle school hallway. However, there have also been times off campus where I have felt pressured to do something that I knew would not be in line with the principles of our honor code here at school.
I would like to remind you all it is important to be able to resist that inevitable pressure to do something you know you shouldn’t, no matter where you are, not just within the walls of our school community. If you only act honorably when you are in front of teachers or staff here, you may not truly call yourself a person of honor. Remember that you are comprised of the things you do and say when nobody is there to see or to listen, for that is when you are your true self. It is easy to put on a disguise and pretend to understand the importance of respecting yourself, others, property, and academic honesty. However, I would like you all to push past that superficial temptation of acting honorably when there is praise or reward in line for your “good” deeds. In those moments where your morals are tested and no one is watching you defend them, I would like you all to strive to be not only your true self , but also your best self. For if those two can become one, you will have succeeded in fulfilling the promise you are about to make to your school, your family, your friends, and yourself as you sign the honor code today.
That being said, it is impossible to be perfect all of the time. But you must try your hardest every day to be the best that you know you can be. This school has equipped you or will equip you with a sixth sense if you will, an ability to feel what the right thing to do in a bad situation is. Not everyone in the world, however, has had the pleasure of being a Stoneleigh-Burnham student. Some people do not have the luxury of being a student at all. Therefore, you must not expect everyone you meet to be able to distinguish right from wrong as easily as you. The world is looking for people like you to help those who can not make the right choice on their own. So act upon that sixth sense, that gut feeling you are all blessed with, act quickly and act definitively.
Understand too, that this is not a request, but a moral obligation. You owe your dedication to abiding by the principles of the code today to your friends. They want to see you respect yourself, for they love and care about you. You owe it to your teachers to be respectful of others, for there is little that can make a teacher happier than seeing the valuable friendships and bonds created amongst students in their classes. You owe it to your parents to be respectful of property, both your own and others. They are the reason you can attend this school and use the materials and supplies you need every day, so treat them with care. Finally, you owe it to yourself to be respectful of academic honesty. You are all brilliant, and more than capable of creating beautiful original work in all of your academic pursuits. So many people would love the opportunity to study at a school with such a wide variety of resources and teachers dedicated to helping you realise your potential to think and to create. Remember that, and do not take it for granted. Soon you will rise from your seats and sign the code that binds you to the expectations of our community. Remember, as you do so, you are not just agreeing to behave on campus and follow rules, you are committing yourself to the task of becoming a person of honor, even when you venture “beyond the physical bounds of the campus," and even when no one is watching.