Octo Observations: Honor Above All Else

Today marks my dear husband’s 84th birthday. He and I have been married for over 61 years. We have seen good times, fabulous times, and rough, rocky, scary times. We have raised four competent, loving children; we are watching nine grandchildren (ages 13-31) strive to succeed in their own ways; and we have two adorable little great grandchildren. We consider ourselves richly blessed. Yet, we never forget we were molded by members of the Greatest Generation, whose irrefutable values reflected selflessness, sacrifice, strong principles, and honor. We live our lives by these standards, and pass them on to our offspring.

This week’s revelation of the Bribing Scandal by parents and others to achieve entrance for undeserving/underachieving children into top rated colleges and universities has left us jaw-dropping disgusted. No other words to express this feeling of abject dismay. My heart has sunk to the bottom of my toes, as I learn more and more about the depth of this deception.

Fact of Life: EVERY parent agonizes with their high school senior child. EVERY conscientious parent tries to support their child in his/her efforts. John and I sure did. We urged our youngsters to study hard, to do their best, and to apply to the colleges appropriate for their interests and abilities. We took them to visit as many college campuses as possible. Only once did we engage an independent college counselor whose fee seemed exorbitant in the 1980s. ($400 for a year.) As it turned out, the counselor lacked drive, diligence or clarity. We ended up dropping him like a hot rock without paying his full fee, and went back to the high school guidance counselor. Our child graduated from a fine Ohio university, where not only did he learn well, but his leadership skills were defined and honed. A good choice with long lasting positive effects.

College admission in the 21st century is more competitive than it was even ten or twenty years ago. What should today’s parents do to help their children through the application process? Here are a few tips according to reputable college counselors:

*Be positive, encouraging, help with organizing details of application process if needed.

*Offer tutoring if child needs extra help with math or another critical subject.

*Instill confidence, yet be realistic about expectations of acceptance into colleges beyond reach.

*Identify and encourage child’s innate talents. Recognize limitations. Listen to child’s passion for learning in certain fields.

*Communicate family financial concerns clearly.

*Let your child lead. Let him/her be CEO of the process. For sure, park your “helicopter” far away! Do not try to live your life through your child!!

Eons ago, the application process was less complicated. We studied, attended school-conducted SAT classes, took practice SAT tests, and filled out all applications ourselves. No fancy expensive college counselors available. Instead our teachers advised us to choose three schools. One considered a REACH, another a MAYBE and the third a FOR SURE. I was rejected by my REACH school, one of the “Seven Sisters,” and it devastated me because every girl in my class of 50 whose mother had gone to that same college was accepted. My mother graduated from a fine college in Ohio. Although no whiz kid, my grades were equally as good as those of a few friends who were accepted. But, it was not meant to be. Disappointments often turn into positive results…for the best!

Now, college applications are made online. Most kids apply to at least a dozen schools. Application fees vary and add up. Getting into college has morphed into a full-time job, eclipsing much of the pure joy intended for high school junior and senior years. Grades, activities, life experiences, athletics, volunteer stints are combined to project a fabulous resume. Kids are stressed, pushed, compared, tutored, and shoved into a highly competitive environment. Most parents never, ever submit to the falsification of their youngsters’ credentials or test scores. They have inherent values and adhere to them.

How can colleges avoid falsified applications?

* State clearly importance of honesty on every level. Insist upon 100% truthfulness. 

*Encourage students not to hide any problems if they exist.

*State clearly: Essays written by another person are fraudulent.

*Automatic dismissal of student if falsification of credentials is discovered.

If all college applicants are well-versed upon the demand for honesty, they will not dare deviate from the truth. They will have learned their own “honor code” which will carry them through college, any chosen career path and life.

Research reveals that many of our prestigious schools do not have Honor Codes…including MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, Rutgers, Yale and many large universities.  Princeton and Dartmouth are the two Ivy League schools whose Honor Code tradition is long standing. William and Mary College in Virginia has the longest intact honor code…followed by the University of Virginia. In 1840, a young masked student shot and killed a law professor.  As a result, UVA inaugurated the Honor Code which states that “if a student reports a fellow student for cheating, that charge cannot be rescinded until the issue is resolved.” 

Upon a first cheating offense at Princeton (my husband’s alma mater) which prides itself on its honor code, established in 1893, a one-year suspension is automatic. Any further violation, demands total-expulsion. This year, a vigorous debate ensued among the undergraduates believing rules are “draconian.” A 64% vote by all students has been taken to modify the existing rules. Apparently, due to one young woman’s panic attack and her speedy exit, exam in hand, to a woman’s bathroom, some students propose that the Honor Code is too stringent, and exceptions should be made. The student vote was split, and negotiations are now in the works, with a decision coming during this current semester. 

Many smaller colleges strictly adhere to their Honor Codes. A few examples:

*Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina “publicly reminds students daily of their honor pledge which is signed in a formal ceremony. The parchment document hangs for four years in Wilson Hall.”

*At Agnes Scott in Decatur, Georgia, a violation of the honor code “requires attendance at plagiarism and integrity workshop to work through re-using and abusing demons.”  

*Alleghany College in Pennsylvania has a unique honor code developed by students rather than administration.”

Speculation: It is easier to enforce Honor Codes in smaller schools because there are not as many students. Many of these schools are located in the south, although I well remember writing on each blue book at college (in the northeastern USA), “On my honor, I do solemnly swear I will neither give nor receive assistance on this exam.” An honor code was also enforced in my Ohio high school. Hence, the seed was firmly planted, and I really do not recall one girl being expelled for cheating. It simply was not done.

By now many of you have listened to TV bulletins or read newspaper articles about this scam. In case you missed anything, let’s summarize the salient points:

*In 2005 there were 2000 college counselors. Now: 17,000.

*Fees in some areas of the USA reach $1000 per hour.

*One NYC consultant, who charges top dollar, says, “My rate reflects demand.” On average an independent firm or consultant charges a family $25,000, but word is that some parents pay six figures for support through high school, test prep and application help.

Much more can be said about this topic, much more will be written about it. But the one message to be conveyed and absorbed is that when adults wrap their egos up tightly with the future success of their children, and are willing to use whatever methods possible to secure an undeserved, unearned dream, then those parents have completely lost their moral compass. What kinds of kids are they raising? What kinds of values are they teaching? What kinds of adults will these youngsters become?

Rise up, fellow Seniors! Speak out, Share your solid values with your grandchildren. Don’t let them drift into complacency, a sense of entitlement or a false-sense of superiority. Don’t let them slide by, and don’t let them think they have all the answers. Teach by example. Give praise when it is earned. Give love with all your heart. Teach that hard work and honesty are the keys to lasting success.

 I will never forget my mother’s telling me:  

“All your father and I ask of you is to do your very best.  One hundred years from now no will remember or even care how you scored on that biology exam. But they will remember the kind of person you were and how you treated them.” 

Honor Above All Else…..now and forever!

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock