Every fall, the Upper School gathers for the Honor Code Assembly during which all new members of our community sign the Honor Book and pledge a promise of integrity and respect for others. Because we can't gather in large numbers, this year's assembly was held on Zoom with the book-signing to follow in advisory. But that's not the only change to come for the Honor Code this year. Following a brief introduction by Upper School Head Mr. Steve Soden, Student Council President Daniel Babalola '21 called upon his peers to consider why Severn has an honor code and how we can use this unique time in our school's history to rewrite it. The following is an abridged version of his remarks.
Today I’m here to talk about the Honor Code, about the steps we’ve taken regarding it, and the steps we’ll take moving forward. I’ve thought a lot about the Honor Code recently, and as I was writing this speech, I remember a discussion I had with a Severn alum. I was on a run with this alum and we were talking, as you do on runs. Eventually, the conversation turned toward the Honor Code. I asked him “What’s your opinion on the code?” To summarize, he said the Honor Code was a glorified way of telling kids not to cheat. To me, that was an odd thing to say, because as a freshman, the Honor Code was not presented that way. It was displayed as a cultural item; the reason we can leave our lockers unlocked without fear.
Going into the Leadership Lab, I was curious to see if other students were as disillusioned with the Honor Code as this alum. Luckily, the first day was about addressing the Honor Code. It’s through these discussions that we learned two things. First, there is a widespread belief among the student body that the Honor Code acts as more of a rule than a cultural item. Second, there is also a widespread desire for it to be more than that or, at the very least, for us to create a code that we can live by.
So this year, we are taking that sentiment and that energy and putting it into a process for examining the Honor Code. In the next few months, we will all have advisory sessions to discuss this topic and attempt to create a vision of who we want to be as individuals and as a community. All of this feedback will be sent to Student Council and we will begin the process of rewriting the code to reflect our values as a school.I’ve discussed the Honor Code with a lot of students over the last year and I know some of you may see this as irrelevant or unnecessary and might not put much thought or effort into this process. I’m not going to walk into your advisory and force you to speak up or think deeply about these questions. But before you make up your mind on how seriously you should treat this, I want to explain the significance of establishing the ideals of a Severn student.
A large part of how we conduct ourselves is based on habits. The thing is, a lot of habits are short-term and to the best of my knowledge there are just two reasons for this:
A) You don’t have the means to continue your habit
B) You are not sufficiently motivated
Since we are talking about culture and personal ideals, A doesn’t apply. So it seems to me that motivation is the crux of the problem. When you break a habit, you are saying that it is not worth the effort to get better at that specific thing. You would rather do something else. You are not motivated enough to work at that habit. As enough time passes, you lose much of the progress you made establishing that habit. And more often than not, you lose your progress at a faster rate than you improved.
What happens when you apply this mindset of short-term habits to character or personal ideals? When you think about your ideals in the short-term and say, “This is the moment I will display good character,” or “That is the moment I will show integrity,” you’ve placed yourself in a position in which you have fragments of your ideal person floating out of reach. We have to piece together the characteristics of that person and get in the habit of behaving like them. Over the next few weeks, we are going to put into words the characteristics that the ideal member of the Severn community has. We are setting goals powerful enough to motivate us to maintain long-term habits that will send us in a positive spiral.
That’s the significance of setting a culture for ourselves, so think deeply about it. When a member of our community leaves to continue their career elsewhere or graduates from school, what sort of person should they be? What ideas are so powerful and worth chasing that we are willing to put in the effort to establish a long-term habit?
I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved in this process: teachers, faculty, everyone that came to the Leadership Lab, Mr. Soden, and most of all, Mr. Buckley. I hope that everyone tries their best and keeps an open mind as we move into this process.