The Saint James School culture of trust and mutual respect is made possible by an honor code to which every student and teacher agrees to adhere--in the classroom, on the playing field, and in every other facet of life in this community. The honor code states,"I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will report anyone I witness doing any of the three." Prior to signing the honor code at the beginning of this school year, Senior Prefect Jordan Walendom '19 spoke to the students about the importance of the honor code to the SJS community. The following is his speech.
What is an honor code? Many of us are inclined to repeat the phrase, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will report anyone I witness doing any of the three,” but that would be answering the question what is our honor code. To define the phrase honor code, it’s easier to split the meaning into two words: honor and code. The latter is easy to define; a code is simply a form of laws or regulations with which people live by. The word honor, on the other hand, is much more abstract. I personally define honor as the virtues of pride, integrity, and self-respect that we put towards ourselves and our surroundings. For a person or a place to be honorable, they must consistently hold themselves to a higher standard than that of their peers. And at this school, through our specific honor code, the standard of behavior and character is elevated to a higher level.
Here at Saint James, the x factor that differentiates us from other schools is the environment that we create. What you will hear over and over again if you were to attend a student panel and ask the students what their favorite part of the school is would be the answer “the sense of community.” To new students, this phrase may be received as another empty platitude, but I personally view the school’s community as the most influential and beneficial aspect of our identity. Think about it, what other high school have you witnessed where meaningful relationships with the teachers and the students have extended so far from the classrooms. I have found that this social encompassment has pushed me to my limits both physically and mentally, in the classrooms, on the fields, and in the music rooms. The benefits of this community, whether we realize it or not, allows us as students of this school to fully unlock our potential. In the same way that an astrophysicist can’t be fully effective without the core understanding of algebra, or a swimmer can’t be his fastest without the proper diet, students at Saint James can’t be their best without the stability of the school community. Though it is possible that varying degrees of success can be reached without those underlying factors, the presence of these factors create the strongest foundation that allow for the greatest growth. It is the core essentials that allow the rest of a system to flow smoothly and that hasn’t been more evident than in Saint James. Examples everyday are shown through the camaraderie on the sports teams, the positive support systems in the classrooms, and the general sense of kinship around campus. It is through our virtues of pride, integrity, and self-respect championed through our honor code that makes this environment possible. The community identity at Saint James—the foundation of what allows students to excel academically, artistically, athletically, and socially—is grounded in the honor code.
In the formation of a social environment, the rules, or more specifically the codes, that are established govern the identity of that setting. This is because those codes of law depict the qualities that are valued in that environment. For example, the United States values its freedom of speech; therefore, in its Constitution it has protected that right to all of its citizens. In that same manner, our school values the honor of each individual student, teacher, and faculty member, and for those reasons, in its concise code, the school has made provisions to protect against actions that would jeopardize the school’s virtues--lying, cheating, and stealing.
But, it is not enough to only have these written codes, it is necessary to have systems in place to uphold these codes. I know that in the Ivory Coast, stealing is illegal and punishable by law, yet, despite this, it is an action that’s endured and almost tolerated by the culture. This is because in its political instability, the system of law isn’t stable enough to punish those that commit the crime, hence making trustworthiness a lost virtue. For example, in the winter of 3rd form, I went home to the Ivory Coast for Christmas. My best friend since the 6th grade lives right down the street from my house and I often head down our busy road to go and see him. One day, I head down there. I ring his doorbell multiple times knowing that it was broken and may require a couple of tries before he heard it. This goes on for about five minutes, so I pull my phone out to check the time. I see that it's 3:16 so I tell myself I’ll wait until 3:20 before calling it in and going home. A passerby catches me doing this, so he comes over to ask me the time. I tell him verbally, but it started to become apparent that he approached me with greater intentions than just finding out the time of day. He says, “show me,” as if I had lied about the time and that he needed confirmation from my phone. I was already pretty suspicious since the start of the interaction, but I decide that I might as well go ahead and show him. I take my phone out of my pocket and hold it as far away from him as possible, before turning on the lockscreen for it to say 3:17. At this point he lunges towards me and grabs my arm, we start wrestling over the phone, and I’m yelling to the taxi cabs and cars driving through the street for someone to help me. The mindset for those drivers was either that they didn’t fully understand what was going on so they kept on driving, or they understood it as a common occurrence so they kept on driving. Regardless, me potentially getting my phone stolen was of no interest to the witnesses. Finally, he gave up and after the scuffle, he calmly picked up my glasses that had fallen on the floor, gave them to me, and walked away. I don’t think there’s ever been a moment in my life where I was more dumbfounded. On my walk back home, I ran into my mother who was going to the beauty salon and told her what had happened. She understood, asked if I was ok, then, knowing the reality of the environment, just told me to go home and we both went on with our day.
What is illustrated through my 3rd form Christmas vacation experience is that we, as a community, are held accountable for maintaining the virtues that we value. The part of the honor code that is often glossed over, which if you are a new 4th or 5th former know that I forgot to address, is the second half of the code that states that we are responsible for reporting anyone we witness violating our virtues. It’s important to understand that in my situation, if anybody who encountered us cared about the virtues of trustworthiness in Abidjan, they could have stood up to protect the values that they believed were important to their community. Fortunately, unlike the Ivory Coast, Saint James takes these values to the most serious extent. An infraction to the honor code is an offense to the community and a transgression to the school reputation. It is why violators of the honor code are often met with the most severe forms of punishment available to the school as it actively keeps our community stable and cohesive. In signing the honor code, it should be more than agreeing to the phrase “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will report anyone I witness doing any of the three,” but taking the responsibility of valuing the honor and the reputation that shape our school community.
Saint James School is a coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 8-12 located in western Maryland. Learn more about SJS.