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In this series of blogs, Admission Director Mike Rodgers considers “evergreen” values–those beliefs and qualities held to be true and valuable regardless of a changing society.

“Moral Courage” is perhaps the most nuanced of the concepts found in Oak Hill Academy’s “4 Core Values.”   Of those four (Community, Responsibility, Moral Courage and Transformation), I find myself spending the most time discussing what we mean by “Moral Courage.”  Many of us on campus probably take this for granted, because this is one of those “you know it when you see it” concepts.  Still, it is well worth discussing, especially in a time (of ubiquitous social media) and place (our small boarding school campus) with great opportunity for our teenagers to find a voice and take ethical stands regarding important issues.  While influences on the development of a moral compass are fast changing, we have long believed that giving our students the opportunity to develop moral courage is an integral part of our mission as a school.  Let’s talk a little about our view of what moral courage is, the new opportunities we have to advance it on our campus, and the things our students are currently doing in this arena.

Our view of moral courage:  Mr. Pease, OHA English Department Chair, explains it this way, “Character is what you do when no one is looking, but moral courage involves what we do when folks are actually looking.”  This sentiment is particularly compelling for adolescents who value tremendously (whether they’ll admit it or not) what their peers think of them.  Social Media can be a place to form an opinion, announce it to the world and get feedback (lots of it!). But the courage it takes to do this face to face can be daunting for today’s teens.  While we do have a lot of boundaries that restrict social media use, we acknowledge that its power can be harnessed as a positive force.  With that realization, we’ve partnered with the Social Institute to develop a curriculum aimed at positive social media use, and are developing student leaders on campus in this area.

At Oak Hill Academy, we value moral courage–standing up for others, and arriving at that stance through the empathy and consideration that comes with being part of a small boarding school community.  On our campus, it’s much more than signaling a thumbs up or counting the number of “likes.”  Having moral courage is about effecting real change in a place where you can see the impact on your peers in real time.  It’s also about encouraging our students to create opportunities to do that.

Yesterday in our daily homeroom assembly, two of our seniors took a stand and shined a light on a phenomenon that is not easy to talk about: relationship and dating abuse and violence.  As a college prep boarding school, we know our students will eventually be part of much, much larger communities and will be faced with a myriad of choices on where to stand on important and complicated social issues.  Mikun and Chase, while exercising their moral courage by taking a stand on this particular issue, are also serving as positive role models for their peers.  To keep the conversation going and the issue spotlighted beyond their homeroom remarks, the orange ribbons of Dating Violence Prevention Awareness Month were distributed to any of our students who felt concerned about this matter–and there were many takers!

While this is a large-scale, public example of our students speaking out about a cause, our small boarding school experience provides unlimited daily opportunities to take a moral stance on issues big and small.  Because we are a small boarding school of approximately 150 students who live and learn together 24/7, we have the ability to impact each other every day. Our goal is for that impact to be positive and mutually beneficial. Toward that end, we have cell phone and social media limitations that promote interaction and engagement with the people in front of you, offering a real opportunity for students to develop interpersonal skills and practice moral courage. At Oak Hill Academy, this happens in real time, in front of real people, in a real community, and effects real change.  This process grows moral courage–a quality of “evergreen” value.