FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 10, 2011) -- Ten Army cadets from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., and approximately 100 students from Richmond-area high schools participated in a conference that focused on leadership and positive morale values Monday at Fort Lee's Liberty Chapel.

Titled "Ethics in High school, College and Beyond," the session was organized by the West Point Society of Richmond. Similar conferences across the country have taken place throughout the year, according to Evie Chitty, the Fort Lee conference chairperson and a 1994 USMA graduate. The free events are meant to strengthen communities by sharing with youth the time-honored West Point values of honesty, integrity and strong moral courage.

"That has been our goal from the beginning," Chitty said. "It's reaching out and giving something back to the communities ... that is very near and dear to us."

Students from Prince George, Mills Godwin, Henrico, Colonial Heights and 16 other high schools and one home-school group attended the event. Many of the attendees were Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets.

Retired Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, president of Longwood University and former dean of the West Point academic board was the guest speaker. He shared some of the moments from his lengthy career in the Army Judge Advocate Corps when he faced tough ethical decisions and applied positive moral values to make the right choices. He challenged the students to walk the frequently difficult and sometimes unpopular path of "doing the right thing" during their future endeavors.

After Finnegan's remarks, the attendees were divided into small groups and the cadets led them in discussions featuring vignettes that focused on dissecting common situations and the decision-making processes that lead to certain outcomes. All of the lessons were based on USMA programs of instruction and were designed to encourage student input.

"The instruction pushes students outside their comfort zones," said Col. Glenn Waters, director, Simon Center for Professional Military Ethics, USMA. "We ask them to talk about values and ethics and approach it as a logical problem as opposed to an emotional one. (They) develop tools that allow them to think through the complicated dilemmas that we face regardless of our values and how we were raised."

Cadet Nick Bayer, a junior USMA student from Norco, Calif., has participated in several previous conferences. He agreed with Waters and said students wouldn't leave the Fort Lee gathering with newfound morals and principles to live by but rather a framework to deal with ethical dilemmas.

"Ethics and morals take time to develop," he said. "It won't be a flashpoint for them in which they come out of here 10 times different, but it will give them a good foundation to move forward later on."

This the third such conference held in the Richmond metropolitan area, said Chitty. The first event took place in 2008. The participating USMA cadets volunteer for roughly 20 conferences a year all over the country, said Waters.

"It's a rewarding program, not only for the high school students who attend, but for the cadets," Waters said. "The cadets are able to develop themselves as leaders while teaching leadership traits."