In Pursuit of Honor

Describe a project or issue in which you have successfully engaged others and led them to accomplish a shared goal. Why were you passionate about the project or issue? What did you do to mobilize and motivate others?

After nine years in the public school system, I was used to locking everything away knowing that what I left in the open would be gone when I got back. When I changed schools, I encountered a new environment and a set of rules based on honor rather than punishments. Soon, I became accustomed to its luxuries and took it for granted-until my junior year. Almost one third of the student body was involved in Honor Offenses concerning stolen semester exams, and the administration responded by taking away our privileges. In a few winter days, the Athens Academy I knew and loved for the high expectations it gave its students disappeared. I felt like I was walking into a different school, and I knew nothing would change unless the students took charge. I helped form a group of students and teachers who wanted to understand what went wrong that year, to correct it, and to prevent it from happening again. After hours of discussion, we finally realized that students had little respect for the Honor Code. We formed a mission statement of re-establishing trust throughout the school, and the Honor and Integrity Committee was born. Last year, I organized frequent meetings between students, teachers and the administration. Although planning the meetings was difficult and many students felt they were too busy, I encouraged them to contribute their ideas and time by making them realize that having teachers trust and know us is more important than just doing well on their tests. As a result, a core group as passionate about the issue as myself drove the action. Over the summer, I and a few other students met with Upper School administrators and the Headmaster and earned their approval for our goals. However, reaching the students was much harder because their complacent attitude was hard to shake. While they wanted a better school, they thought it was too late to make a difference. To overcome this attitude, we talked to small groups of students at a time, and showed them how little changes on their part, like talking a friend out of cheating, could make huge differences in the atmosphere. Even after developing a pathway for students to follow if they had any problems, we’ve stayed active as a support group. During high-stress periods, we remind students to pay attention to their choices, making the student body recognize Honor as a guiding principle. This year Athens Academy has a record low number of Honor Offenses while school spirit and participation are at a highpoint. Although the process was long and sometimes frustrating, I see the results when we enjoy free periods instead of study halls or when teachers feel comfortable leaving us during tests. I expect myself to act honorably, and Athens Academy has an environment that values it. Leading the effort to bring back the Honor Code is my way of sharing with other students the importance of honor to communities like Athens Academy and to life itself.

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