Welcome. We are brought together today to celebrate and recognize your academic achievement – your grades, for that is how one makes the honor roll, and this is an honors assembly. In considering the word honor as a noun signifying “great respect, esteem, or reverence,” it seems odd how narrowly we conceive of honor in this context by limiting it to academic achievement. Outside the context of school, in what is sometimes called the “real world,” honor is taken to mean nobility of mind or spirit, uprightness, and a strict adherence to what is considered morally right or just. Good grades in school may indicate many things – intellectual aptitude, perseverance, industriousness among them. All positive attributes. Contrarily, they may indicate obsequiousness, sycophancy, or a tedious egotism. While we hope that they indicate the former qualities, one cannot know without knowing more about a person than can be had by reviewing their report card. Even then, not everything is as it appears. In academia, as in nearly every other aspect of our lives, falsity usually carries certain advantages and promises greater prizes than do honesty and authenticity. However, for the person called to a higher standard than the low bar of conformity, the choice to live honorably begins with an examination of one’s surroundings
Ridgeview may only be a school, but it aspires to much more – to be a way of life, a philosophy for living. Such a thing is communicated by the words on our walls and in the books we discuss. They are calls for rumination about the purpose and conduct of our lives. They amount to more than the vapid encouragements typical of educational institutions that share so much in common with their penal counterparts. Both are systems of confinement – one mental, and arguably spiritual, and the other physical. Ridgeview, in defiance of this modern predicament, is attempting to prompt in its students a love for freedom and the inculcation of habits that will be essential to seeing it flourish in their lives.
It is in choosing students of the quarter that the faculty come together in an attempt to identify who best represents this life and philosophy. In order to do this, we must pierce the veil of prosaic human falsity to discover the genuine characters that exist beneath the surface. Humility compels us to acknowledge that we do not get it right every time. The names on the wall in the lobby are testament as much to the greatness of those who have walked these hallways and conversed upon these texts as they are of the mortal fallibility of those who taught and nominated them. In choosing, we must put character first and academics second. Character matters more because academics are only a part of one’s life (hopefully), and while important, they do not comprise a very deep part of it, especially when they are treated only as the means to some ulterior end. Real learning – in the moment – is always its own end. It is a love and a labor, the quenching of a curiosity and the instantaneous birth of another. Review the autobiographies of Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, or Jack London and you will find that they rarely regale their readers with tales of their grades, but rather of their infatuations and adventures. Real learning, whether done through a book or other means, is done for itself, and so it seems a strange thing that we ought to consider it honorable to have done it for a grade. Instead, we hope that by judging the whole of the person we will find that the grade was only a minor consequence of some greater purpose. We hope to find people living above themselves; individuals endeavoring to be curious and reflective about the people they are and will become without succumbing to narcissism and smugness.
For people who aspire in such a way, it is important to know whether they think of others or merely what others think about them. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a preacher on the radio describe the situation of people who lead complicated lives without there being inherently interesting or profound. He described the manner in which these lives become complicated and self-destructive, and compared them to a ship. He noted that it is not the water outside of the ship, but the water that gets in the ship that sinks it. We are constantly barraged with fatuities and obstacles of every variety that plot to sink our ships; however, it is our letting these things in that will bring our ruin. The things on the outside of the ship will forever be there; what is in or on the ship is our choice. If we wish to be people of honorable character and deportment, we must consider what animates us if we wish to preserve the integrity of the haul. At the risk of quoting from a banned book, I would point you to Proverbs wherein a passage reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Guard it from the envy and avarice outside of you that conspires to see your good character, cheerfulness, and optimism tarnished. Guard it from ruefulness, insouciance, petulance, and despair. Guard it from those who deal in misery, conspiracy, and gossip. To quote Booker T. Washington, “Associate with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” Hopefully, the people chosen as students of the quarter are the types of people Washington would have had in mind had he known them.
Our middle school student of the quarter is a young lady who is academically accomplished, but who was chosen because of her graciousness in helping others succeed at Ridgeview. She participates in class, takes her work seriously, demonstrates initiative and industry, is cordial with the faculty – even when she is no longer in their classes – and is always amiable and positive. She has been described as polite, thorough, and altogether teachable. One of her teachers noted, “she laughs at herself, but never at others.” Our middle school student of the quarter is Bethany Tafoya.
Our high school student of the quarter is a young lady who is also academically accomplished, but who was chosen because she is mature beyond her years and can exhibit both intensity and whimsy depending on the situation. She is both enthusiastic and industrious, an athlete and a student, a leader and a reliable helper, a perfectionist who can laugh at her mistakes, a shaper of our school community and culture, a performer, an ambassador, a singer, a dancer, and an astute writer. Our high school student of the quarter is Grace Westfall.