My Speech to the NHS Inductees on Character


Character is perhaps the most abstract of the four National Honor Society pillars, and that perhaps makes it the most difficult to quantify and speak about. Most of us would say that we know good character when we see it. We identify with examples of strong character. Consider this situation:

Four friends from out of state are passing through Kingston on their way to a vacation in the White Mountains. Their names are Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer. Yes, for those of you who recognize this story I am talking about the 4 main characters from the television series Seinfeld and this is the famous “final episode.” They witness a robbery in broad daylight. The robber has his hand in his pocket, and the victim shouts that the man has a gun. As soon as the robber runs away, a Kingston policeman appears on the scene; but instead of pursuing the robber, he arrests Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer for having violated the "Good Samaritan" law. Since the four of them spent the time of the robbery making fun of the victim, who happened to be over-weight, their role in the matter doesn't look good and at their trial everyone who has ever felt wronged by them in their life testifies against them. They are convicted. Is this just? What were they supposed to do during the robbery? Should they have rushed the robber, just in case he didn't really have a gun?

Unfortunately for Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, their fate was sealed not by how they reacted during the robbery, but rather by the series of poor decisions they made along the way in life that people stitched together to form an opinion about their character. In the court of public opinion, you cannot escape the decisions you make. They speak volumes about you as a person and your character.

Webster’s dictionary defines character as “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” It goes on to state that character is “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation.” When asked what words come to mind to describe character, many people would respond with things like: reputation, moral excellence, and role-model.

In your life, you have and will continue to be confronted with situations that will challenge your beliefs and test your moral values.

·        How would you respond if you knew one of your friends was cheating in school?
·        What would you do if you witnessed someone shoplifting in a store?
·        If you were in a restaurant and you saw someone being bullied at the table next to you, would you say anything?
·        If you were the only person who knew your cousin was abusing prescription drugs, would you say anything?

It might be easy to sit on this stage tonight and objectively answer each of the moral dilemmas I just posed to you with a resounding “yes, I would act!” but until you are actually put in the situation you never really know how you will respond. The true test of your character will be not if you respond, but how you respond. As you make decisions in your life, these choices will be stitched together by others who will make a value judgment on your character. Don’t be like Jerry Seinfeld and his friends. A really close teacher friend of mine who’s life was cut too short always told his students to “find your path, give back, and make good choices.” The choices you make tell us everything we need to know about your character, so make the right ones in life.

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