By Ms. Jacqueline Leeker (IMCOM)March 19, 2009
FORT BELVOIR, Virginia --A recent survey on high school ethics found that, within the preceding year, 30 percent of students had stolen from a store and 64 percent had cheated on a test. To confront this problem, 11 West Point Cadets led 108 juniors, chosen for their leadership qualities, from 33 local high schools in the second annual Leadership and Ethics Conference at George Mason University.
Students from Mount Vernon High School, Fort Belvoir's partner school, participated in the event.
High school juniors were selected for the conference because they are mature enough to be active members, and have the opportunity to be leaders at their school for another year.
"We hope we can make a difference. If the leaders are cheating, you can bet the followers are, as well," said Carl Cecil, co-chairman of the conference.
In a keynote speech, Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer presented the history of George Washington and Benedict Arnold.
"For two people so similar, why were their legacies so different' One was a traitor, and the other the father of our nation. The answer is character. Your destiny is determined by the strength of your character," said Palmer.
The students then broke off into eight groups, each led by a cadet. "I liked that the cadets led the discussion. They were very engaging, nice, and we could really relate to them because of their age," said Corinthia Evans from Mount Vernon High.
Each group discussed four vignettes taken from recent news events or everyday school life, such as: should you turn in a friend who cheated on a test' "Is someone really your friend if they ask you to jeopardize your morals'" asked Steve Hojnicki, a senior at West Point.
With no "approved solutions," only principles, each group presented a skit based on the vignettes, showing how to apply what they had learned to make ethical decisions every day. Skits were presented in front of their peers, the winners chosen by student vote.
One group acting out a skit on cheating in class sang a theme song of "Let's Get Ethical," a play on the song "Let's Get Physical."
The winning group acted out a game show, about a young girl looking for love. She chose her guy not based on how he looked, but on his ethical and moral character.
Contestant number three was the winner. He used ethical analysis to win her affection.
At the end of the day, each student left the conference with tools to help them in ethical dilemmas.
"Today, I learned sometimes ethical issues go beyond just right and wrong. It's OK to disagree," said West Springfield High School's Ashley Brigham.
The West Point class of 1979 hosts the event annually. "We want to send seeds out to the schools. These students will be able lead by example," Cecil said.
The class of '79 set up a group on Facebook for the conference. It will act as a place for students to turn to anytime they have ethical questions.