FAIRFAX, Va. (Army News Service, March 18, 2008) -- Some 122 juniors from 28 northern Virginia high schools gathered last week at George Mason University to discuss ethics and leadership development under the sponsorship of the West Point class of 1979 and the West Point Society of DC.

West Point graduate and director of the Center for Leadership and Ethics Dr. Lenn Marrella served as keynote speaker and kicked off the first Virginia conference speaking to the students on the importance of leading an ethical lifestyle and how it develops character and sets a precedent for peers to follow. Eight academy cadets from northern Virginia were also at the conference to lead discussions and scenario exercises on ethics.

Carl P. Cecil, president of the West Point class of 1979 and co-chairman for the conference, said the students were all selected by their high school faculties for their leadership abilities, not necessarily for their academic standings.

"Our goal was to help improve the ethics for the kids in this area and instead of a shotgun approach blast trying to focus on one school and hit 600 juniors, we wanted to find the leaders in each of the schools and offer them this opportunity," he said. "We hope what they learned about themselves through this conference will be taken as seeds of an ethical lifestyle back to their fellow high schoolers."

Cecil added that West Point started the ethics classes five years ago at high schools in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area and commoditized the program so it could be exported and tailored by his class to northern Virginia. He also said two of his classmates from Minnesota and Florida are going to organize their own conferences using the Virginia conference as a template.

"We saw an opportunity to make a difference in our community because there are problems in the area where heroes are no longer heroes because they took shortcuts to get to the top, then were exposed for taking the shortcut, so we're trying to help guide these students," he said. "The message we're sending is based on the importance of duty, honor and country that was drilled into our heads at the academy... doing the right thing when sometimes that right thing is not as easy as doing the wrong thing."

The program included small-group breakout sessions during a working lunch with West Point cadets who volunteered to work with the conference. The cadets led discussions and guided the students through four scenarios ranging from cheating on exams and stealing money to lying and slandering and how they would deal with the issues. Following lunch, the student groups presented their group interpretation and solution to the scenarios to the entire gathering.

West Point senior Cadet Aaron Palmer viewed the experience as a way to help himself as well as the students.

"Ethics are one of those things where you always know your own values, but you don't always speak them or define them, so this helped me to do that because I was able to talk about what I believe in and try to impart that to the students," Palmer said. "I try to live the warrior ethos everyday for myself and for the Soldiers I will lead, so I hope the high school kids here were able to think about how their values play a role in their lives then model those core values for their fellow students."

West Point junior Travis Haigler also said interacting with the high school students broadened his perspective.

Aca,!A"This conference allowed me to broaden my understanding of honesty. Two people may say they value honesty, but their definitions of honesty are going to differ, and that is something I never really understood before,Aca,!A? Haigler said. Aca,!A"Still honesty is one of my core values so IAca,!a,,cll remain pretty focused on how IAca,!a,,cve always thought of it based on how it was taught to me, but I can take from the students what might benefit my values and eventually change my character.Aca,!A?