I know that someday you'll find better things.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Sometimes keeping your mouth shut is not the best advice. After all, silence implies consent.

“So-and-so’s aunt used to be an instructor, and she mailed him a copy of the life-guarding exam. We’ll memorize the key, and then we’ll party. The ice luge is already on the way and everything. Come over; it’ll be great!”

This didn’t seem great.
This was very not-great.
I needed to buy time to think.

“Maybe,” I stalled. “Hey, there’s some stuff that I need to take care of. Can I call you back?”

It seems appropriate to mention here that for years I have been mistaken for someone of above-average intellect. This is not accurate. I do not think quickly. I think hard. It is not gifted intelligence, it is diligence and tenacity. My ‘gifts’ are effort and obsession.

If all my classmates cheated on this test, they’d receive their certifications. People would hire them because they were certified to save lives, but they might not be able to do that. They’d get a perfect score on the exam, but who knows if they’d have the skills to back it up?

Then again, if everyone really was there except for me, and I told the authorities what was happening, and there were consequences, it would be obvious that I’d been the rat.

If I went to the party and avoided the answer key, but somehow someone did find out about the situation, I’d be an accessory to the crime. Or at least guilty by association.

If I didn’t go to the party, I wouldn’t have proof that the cheating had even happened, so trying to alert someone would be futile.


Was anyone else from the class having this internal debate at that moment? I hoped so.

I couldn’t be a part of it, so I made up some lame excuse as to why I couldn’t attend the festivities. I don’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it was awful—I’m an atrocious liar. It’s the whole lack-of-thinking-quickly thing.

After the exam the next day, they all high-fived their way out of the classroom in record time. I was the last one to finish, and I left alone.

They probably got 100s. I didn’t. I earned an 88.

The injustice stung, but the pain was temporary. The burn was soothed by the reassurance that if I had to save a life, I could do it. It was the first time that I really started to question the validity of numerical grades.

Despite the certification and the confidence that I could save a life, I never sought a lifeguarding position. I didn’t want to cross paths with any of those people ever again. We could never be teammates—my trust in them could never be restored.

Not participating in the cheating ring was the honest decision. It was not the honorable decision, though. The honorable decision would have been to speak up and tell someone. I have no idea to whom I should have revealed this knowledge. The instructor? The dean?

To this day, I don’t know.

I say ‘to this day’ because I’ve thought about it many, many times since it happened. Guilt stains my heart, for silence implies consent, and my reluctance to speak up endorsed the choice of the cheaters.

Sometimes my mind runs wild, and I wonder if any lives were ever lost because I didn’t have the courage to speak out.

For years and years I've confessed this personal indiscretion to my students, and not just to illustrate that guilt can have such a profound impact on one’s conscience.

I’ve told them because I want them to understand the way that integrity protects honor and cheating compromises it.

Cheating steals away pieces of a person’s life-long honor. No assignment, no project, no evaluation—NOTHING I could ever ask of my students could ever be worth losing even a tiny piece of their honor.

People sometimes forget (or overlook) that cheating is not a symptom of apathy. The apathetic don’t have the desire to cheat. Cheating comes about when there is a reward for proficient performance and the person being measured doesn’t have the knowledge and/or skills (or confidence in the knowledge and/or skills) to perform independently.

The greatest external danger in cheating is the way that it misrepresents a person’s capability. 

In a purely academic setting, misleading an instructor removes the opportunity to remediate, forfeiting long-term understanding.

When the stakes are higher—professional exams and certifications—cheating could be the catalyst for a life-or-death crisis. 

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