As an Honors
student writing my Honors thesis and purportedly adhering to numerous Honor
codes at Penn State, I am obliged to reflect on the concept of "honor."
What does it mean to be honorable?
Should I be honored because I am in the
Honors College, because of academic success...or is it more than that?
The term "honor" appears to me to have two
very distinct uses.
is the honor associated with academic distinction, athletic performance, and
then there is also the honor that can't be written down, formatted and pasted
on a résumé, the kind of honor that requires integrity and strength of character.
Unfortunately, this more profound sense
of honor, this deep-seated self-assurance and conviction of purpose is not
something that can be easily identified; this sort of honor can only be
affirmed by observing an individual's actions over time and in critical moments
of mental and physical duress.
Now, while in
practice the assumption is that those who achieve distinction possess this
integrity, it is certainly not always the case.
We frequently hear about the debauchery of distinguished
politicians, the perversion of high priests, and the corruption of decorated
law enforcement officers in the evening news.
And we are extremely reluctant to call them honorable,
despite their impressive accomplishments.
Equivalently, students who have gleaned a certain degree of distinction
- whether in school, on the field, or in the community - do not necessarily
possess the high degree of integrity required for this more profound sense of
And this becomes an issue
for the faculty and administrators of the Honors College, as they undoubtedly
do not wish to produce merely accomplished students, but truly honorable
For the Honors
College, the question then becomes -- how can instructors and advisors instill
students with this more profound variety of honor?
Should coursework be delivered in a broader context - that
is - perhaps a broader political, economic, and moral context?
Should more emphasis be given to the
implications of certain practices, rather than to their mere execution?
How can students be encouraged to
reflect on their values and to develop an internal moral compass?
Moreover, how will they know when they
As for the
students, we should be asking ourselves - what do I value?
What do I consider my virtues? Am I
truly committed to any ethical paradigm, or do I just pretend to subscribe to a
general sense of morality without really considering the implications of my
views and actions?
Would I really
consider myself an honorable person?