Given by John Heldman, Senior Class Officer
Good morning everyone,
My name is John Heldman and I am a senior Class Officer. When Mr. Oglesby came to me about speaking in chapel about integrity, I was kind of excited because speaking in chapel had always been a goal of mine but at the same time kind of nervous because it’s been a while since I last spoke to so many people at once so bear with me.
To start, this is how dictionary.com defines “integrity”…
Just kidding, I won’t put you guys through a speech like that.
Instead here’s a quick story about integrity.
There once was an emperor who needed an heir to his throne since he had no sons of his own. So one day, he called hundreds of boys into his palace from all over his empire. He explained to them that they would persevere a great test and the winner would decide who would be his next of kin. He passed out seeds to everyone there and explained that everyone was to plant, grow, and take care of this seed for the entire year, and the boy who returned with the grandest and healthiest plant would win the contest. All the boys excitedly brought their seeds home to begin to plant them, including a boy named Lin. He gathered the richest soil and watered this plant daily, but not even a sapling would rise out of the dirt. Days and weeks and months passed until it had been a year. Lin returned to the palace, a year older with the same empty clay pot filled with soil – to find a courtyard filled with beautiful and huge plants that all the other contestants had grown and brought. The emperor, lined up the boys and inspected each plant carefully until he got to Lin. He asked him why he did not have a plant and Lin explained how no matter what he did, the seed would not grow. Everyone laughed except the emperor who took Lin’s pot and held it up declaring a winner. All the other boys were just as surprised as Lin until the emperor explained that every seed he had handed out one year ago had been boiled so that it could never grow into a plant. He was looking for an honest contestant to take his place.
Lin never strayed from what was the right thing to do, he never cheated, he never cut corners, and he tried his best even though he thought it meant losing his chance at becoming emperor. It would have been easy for him to plant a new seed as soon as it was clear his plant was not going to grow, but instead he was honest. As we live our lives, there are constantly opportunities for us to stray from what is right in order to get ahead, get better grades, get some more sleep – but we are only cheating ourselves.
Integrity isn’t just something we sign at the top of ever test and essay. It’s not something that only affects cheaters or thieves or heroes. Instead, it is something we live with everyday, whether we notice it or not. It is our moral uprightness, our values – it is at the heart of who we are as individuals and defines what we choose to stand for.
I want y’all to close your eyes and imagine you’re walking in your neighborhood and you look down and what do you see? A wallet. You pick it up and find $500 in cash, and an ID. Now, knowing how full of integrity this community is, let me ask, how many of you- raise your hand -would return the wallet to its owner?
Well it turns out, someone did a whole study on returning wallets, and much like all of you guys, nearly everyone in this study’s survey said that they would return the wallet….. But interestingly, this same study planted wallets around town and recorded what people did when they found them. Only 3 out of 10 returned them.
So what does this tell us? We all want to think that we do the right thing all the time, but how do we truly live out a life filled with integrity on a daily basis? Ask yourself, did you just raise your hand because everyone else was, you’re sitting right next to your advisor, or maybe you just want to look like somebody that would do the right thing all the time. Or maybe you honestly would return the wallet.
When talking about integrity, these decisions we make – these decisions that define us – they must be made regardless of an audience. Integrity isn’t just one thing, it’s a way of life. It’s moral courage, honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, and decency. It’s having ethical convictions, and morals. Doing the right thing in all circumstances not just when it suits you.
Lack of integrity is one of the easiest qualities to detect in people. At the same time it’s one of the most sought after qualities whether in a career situation or personal relationships. Everyone can think of people in their lives that lack integrity. We live in a society, whose integrity is challenged everyday. More often than not, decisions seem to be made out of emotion-maybe hate or jealousy or anger. These can corrupt our morals and restructure what makes us who we are, which at the end of the day is what we do with our actions and words.
So how can you keep your integrity – how can you grow it. Well, like everything else, it takes practice. Think thoughtfully on every decision you make and think through your morals, what you believe to be right and wrong. Don’t let a bad day or a flare of anger or jealousy towards someone push you to do something you wouldn’t do otherwise. Strive everyday to strengthen your integrity, live your faith, and be kind. Your decisions in life define you.
I would like to leave you with a quote by the great American writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I think really captures the importance of integrity.
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”