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A Captain's Viewpoint: On Honor

  Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I still remember the nerves I felt sitting in the Community of Scholars Convocation, the freshman welcome ceremony.

I recall intently watching the faculty members adorned in academic regalia as they filed into the hall, wondering which ones I would have as professors during my first semester. When it was our turn to sign the honor code, my row stood and approached the parchment. We were encouraged to read over the honor code once again, just as we had earlier that summer during orientation:

“On my honor, I will maintain the highest standards of honesty, integrity and personal responsibility. This means I will not lie, cheat or steal, and as a member of this academic community, I am committed to creating an environment of respect and mutual trust.”

Phrases like “highest standards,” “personal responsibility” and “mutual trust” stood out to me at the time, but I had no idea just how they were realized in the CNU culture, or how important these ideals would become to me.

I’ve always believed the concept of honor had lofty connotations. Not only is it associated with prestigious positions, but it also implies a high level of respect for outstanding individuals. The first explanation I heard that helped me connect honor’s intricate definition with kinetic action was the idea that honor is a set of actions performed when no one is watching. Rather than acting honorably for the recognition of others, true honor means acting in service of others without their regard. It’s an idea that drives many students to go above and beyond in service, academics and personal development. We work not for appreciation, but in accordance with a desire to improve our community.

Though honor is a key value at Christopher Newport, the practice of it around campus is much more meaningful than the ideal of it. Honor is seen in friendly greetings between people passing on the sidewalk; honor is demonstrated in the effort and diligence displayed in the classroom, from both students and faculty. It is consistently displayed in student interactions every day as we look out for one another and hold our peers accountable for their actions.

The best demonstration of what honor means in my own life comes from CNU’s commitment to creating a culture of student decision-making. I never anticipated having the authority to sit on a panel with my fellow students and recommend judicial decisions to university leadership. Serving on our Student Honor Council and working closely with those in charge of honor enrichment at CNU has given me a stronger sense of how values dictate actions, as well as a grasp of the challenges that face my university in upholding such a high standard of integrity. Christopher Newport’s system of introducing, connecting and reminding students of the honor code and the University’s values motivates us to consider how they impact our own lives, allowing us to personally develop our individual priorities and ideals.

I have had ample time to observe, critique and engage with the honor code. Over and over I have been amazed by the University’s commitment to promoting each of its values, and I have patterned my own dedication to honor on the University’s example. Prior to my time here, I considered the idea of an honor code to be just a formality reminding students not to cheat. I now understand that CNU’s honor code is an intentional reminder to students of a commitment to excellence and citizenship key to our success beyond the classroom.

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