A Life of Integrity: Opening Convocation Features Honor Code Signing

Students Sign the Honor CodeOn February 10, 1982, 46 Apple employees gathered with CEO Steve Jobs to celebrate another milestone in creating the Macintosh personal computer. The hardware cast was ready for mass production, so it was time for some champagne, some speeches, and some signatures.

Steve Jobs approached his work as an artist, and he believed that his employees were artists too. At his guidance, the Mac team signed their work, and soon these signatures were inscribed inside the back panel of hardware cases ready for market.

The origination of personalized marks and signatures remains somewhat of a mystery. Some point to 3000 B.C. when Sumerians affixed seals to verify document authenticity. Others look to wax seals in China, Japan, and Korea or signatures within Jewish and Muslim communities as the invention of the practice.

Signatures appear on the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence, on artworks by Frida Kahlo and the letters of Apostle Paul. They authenticate contracts, pledge commitments, and petition to change course.

No matter the origin, a signature serves as the mark of one’s agency or one’s integrity, honor, and truth for generations and civilizations the world over.

As we begin a new academic year and mark this momentous occasion with the 85th Opening Convocation of Valparaiso University, we aim to leave an indelible mark on you – our students. As we prepare you – each of you – for a life of leadership and service in and for this world, we aim to shape you, challenge you, and encourage you to find yourself and your calling.

This is our signature as an institution and our mission as Valparaiso University: We are a community of learning dedicated to excellence and grounded in the Lutheran tradition of scholarship, freedom, and faith. We seek truth, wisdom, and understanding. We value conversations and discourse, expressions of shared beliefs and values – even when our differences or beliefs may be irreconcilable. We measure success through lives enriched and the contributions of the graduates we send into the world.

Throughout your journey in this place, we will prepare you to become Valpo graduates who will be highly sought for your knowledge, character, integrity, and wisdom. For this is truly an extraordinary place of life-changing possibilities where exploration meets enlightenment, where difference meets devotion, and where purpose meets passion. And your journey at Valpo begins now.

Today, we officially welcome you into the Valpo community with arms wide open. We have deliberately sought to shape our student body so that your backgrounds, faith traditions, and world experiences represent and mirror the fullest expression of humanity throughout the world. By carefully and intentionally shaping our community with people of different backgrounds and beliefs, we seek to create a community that reflects our common values at Valparaiso University as truth-seeking, humble, compassionate, service-minded, and ethical individuals.

Now for some advice. My guess is that most of you have been given advice from friends and family members about what you should and shouldn’t do in college. Let me offer mine as well.

If you aim to get the most out of your experience at Valparaiso University, then I recommend you do these three things: seek knowledge, practice gratitude, and have courage.

Seek knowledge in all that you do. Be curious, ask questions, and absorb all the wisdom assembled in this place. You are at a place that believes that it is by the grace of God and not by our own works that we saved. And so, this is a place of intellectual freedom. At this University under the cross, you are free to pursue Truth, knowing that it is ultimately the Truth that sets us free.

Practice gratitude for your many blessings. Many have given much to ensure that you are here: your parents, your family, generous alumni and friends, founders and visionaries who sustained this University throughout the decades, and the faculty and staff members who sit before you and who have dedicated their lives to investing in yours.

Have courage to live a life that defies expectations. Each day is filled with boundless possibilities and countless choices. I encourage you to do something brave. Push yourself. Take risks. Raise the bar. Be bold and be yourself – your most authentic and excellent self, not a lesser or perhaps a safer version.

Inside and out of the classroom, you’ll be tested. Many tests you encounter will not be for a specific class. It is in these real-life tests where you may well discover who you really are and who God has called you to be.

I sincerely hope that you’ll find out what you’re truly called to do, be, and contribute to the world. At Valpo, we understand this as your vocation, or your life’s calling. It’s that nagging inside of you that knows what true joy is and feels like. And, in the words of Frederick Buechner, when your deep joy meets the deep hunger in the world – something clicks.  Work is transformed into vocation. Life falls into place in an astonishing way. And you will have discovered how you will make your mark in the world.

Today, we will do something old in a very new way. Much like those innovative engineering artists at Apple, you will be asked to add your signature to a code of honor as you pledge a commitment to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity. For 70 years, Valpo students have signed this code on all exams and coursework. Today you will sign the code of honor together as an incoming class.

In 1943, Barbara Bernthal, student body president, led an initiative to institute a code of academic honor for Valparaiso University. Enrollment was down. And the country was at war. The climate was uncertain, and the future looked bleak. But the students at that time insisted that all those who sought an education at Valpo, as well as those members of the faculty who helped shape their academic experience, should be held to the very highest standard of integrity. This was not the first time that Valpo stood to distinguish itself as a remarkable place, and it certainly has not been the last.

American novelist John D. MacDonald described integrity this way: “Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see [someone] who won’t cheat, then you know [you] never will.”

I have neither given or received, nor have I tolerated others’ use of unauthorized aid.

Fifteen words. These 15 words will help shape and guide you from today on. They are the Valparaiso University Honor Code – a code of academic integrity that, as a member of this community, you will pledge to uphold throughout your experience here. With your signature, you pledge not only to hold yourself to a higher standard, but also to strive for excellence in all that you do. You will do what is right, even when it’s difficult, be authentic with others and yourself, and honor your commitments and beliefs.

These are the marks of a life of integrity. And this is the signature of a Valpo graduate – like those students who sat here in these very pews 10, 20, 50 years ago and those who will sit here 50 years from now.

“Integrity is one of several paths,” stated author M.H. McKee. “It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.”

As you take the first step in your Valpo journey, as you set about to make a name for yourself, we at Valpo call you to a higher standard. May your mark on this campus and on our world be a mark of integrity – of honesty, of character, of wisdom.

And may God richly bless you and keep watch over you throughout your academic endeavors and all of your days.

On behalf of all of us, welcome to Valpo!

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