Christman '61 talks about honor
Posted 11/02/2011 10:00AM
WRA's Honor Council met with Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Daniel Christman '61 after his talk in the Chapel. Front row, from left, are Peter Suwondo '12, Imani Brooks '14, Katie Shah '14 and Jing Zhu '12; and back row, from left, Robert Stephens '13, faculty advisor Keely Boomhower, Christman and Eric Rauckhorst '12.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Daniel Christman ’61 returned to the Western Reserve Academy campus on Oct. 10 to speak to the school community about honor.

Following an introduction by Eric Rauckhorst ’12, a member of the WRA Honor Council, Christman delivered a speech in the Chapel entitled, Buses, Sorting Hats and George Washington: Making the Right Choices.

“I think the adoption of the code, as well as the associated council and honor education and awareness programs, is one of the most important initiatives at Reserve in years,” Christman, who serves as an advisor to the Honor Council, said. “I applaud both the student body for the initiative, and the faculty and administration for their endorsement.”

The school’s honor code was created to help the WRA community strive for the ideals of Excellence, Integrity and Compassion. The code lays out for students what is expected of them as a member of the school community – from academic honesty, to residential and campus life, and athletics and extracurricular activities. It also presents the steps the school will take in disciplinary matters.

Christman shared a story about Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski who, as a 17-year-old in Chicago, was reminded one day by his mother to take the right bus into the city. While riding the bus that day, Krzyzewski realized his mother was actually telling him to make the right choices in his life – about his friends, about whom he would follow, about the athletic teams he would join and about the role models in his life – because those decisions would shape the rest of his life.

“That’s how I judge what Reserve’s adoption of the code means to each of you: to help you get on the right bus and to make the right choices as you build the foundations for a life of substance,” said Christman, a former superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy. “This school has a terrific mission statement, as its key line stresses that you will undergo a ‘transformational experience’ in which you ‘strive for excellence, live with integrity and act with compassion.’

“‘Honor’ and ‘integrity’ are closely associated, but they are not synonyms. Integrity means living a principled life, always free from hypocrisy, being true to your values. Honor defines what those values and principles are. Simply put, it means ‘doing the right thing.’ As we say in our Cadet Prayer at West Point, ‘Help us to choose the harder right over the easier wrong, and never to be content with the half truth when the whole can be won.”

Christman, a member of the Board of Trustees, then turned to the Harry Potter series to further emphasize the importance of making good choices, offering examples from the book where Harry is reminded that the choices he makes, rather than his ability, reflect his true character.

“Who you will become is also a central element of Reserve’s mission statement,” Christman said. “That statement says, at the very end, that Reserve will prepare you to be ‘leaders in an increasingly interconnected world.’ But what kind of leaders? I’d argue: leaders of character. Leaders in the corporate sector, in education, in philanthropy, in government, in uniform, who lead based on the values they exhibit.

“This is not simply aspirational. It’s a style of leadership development used both here and abroad, to produce the next generation of leaders who will guide the destinies of our countries and their key institutions. It is called the Be-Know-Do model and, simply stated, it says that what you know, and what you do based on the knowledge, are far less important than who you are.

“That is why what you will become – who you will be – is central to any school’s mission. And it is why honor and integrity, the bedrock values that Reserve is hoping to instill, are stressed so much here, in these key years of your development: because they will help make you inspirational leaders of character after you graduate.”

Christman used George Washington as an example of a successful values-based leader. Using a short film clip from the made-for-TV film, The Crossing, Christman illustrated how Washington’s men followed him because they trusted him.

“Washington led by building trust and you will lead successfully in the same manner – by living with integrity, acting with compassion, choosing the harder right over the easier wrong, and personifying honor in all that you do,” Christman said. “The values I just outlined are the surest way to build trust in those whom you expect to follow you. And they are the surest way to become successful leaders of character, in a world desperately in need of such talent.

“Your new code and its associated support systems are not about enforcement of new rules. It’s about educating the community and developing young people, to encourage the embedding of values in all aspects of life at WRA. Everyone makes mistakes – whether you are 18 or 68. But what you’ve established by this initiative is a method of learning from those mistakes. The code will enrich both the experience of all who are privileged to be part of this great school, as well as a broader community of young people whom Reserve will touch and influence over the coming decades.”

Christman closed his presentation by quoting from The Truly Great, a poem by English poet Stephen Spender, which Christman was reminded of during a recent visit to the World War II battlefields in Normandy, France.

“Spender wrote the poem when he was not much older than you, shortly after the first World War,” Christman said. “He was trying to describe those special people whose lives are inspirational, who rise above the common level of life. Its last lines are ‘those who, in their lives, fought for life; who wore in their hearts the fire’s center. Born of the sun, they traveled a short distance toward the sun and left the vivid air signed with their honor.’

“You are being given a wonderful opportunity here, to grow and develop. Take advantage of what is being offered. Make the right choices. Get on the right bus. Become a leader who can be trusted. Be truly great.”

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