Effortless honor

To the Editor:

Hats off to Allegra Hyde ’10 for her article on “the myth of effortless perfection” (“Effortful imperfection,” April 14). Sadly, one place where we see some of the most insidious effects of a pervasive belief among students that they must achieve at the highest levels, without apparent effort or anyone’s help, is on the Honor Committee. I’ve served on that committee off and on for two decades, and time and again we are faced with students who found themselves jammed up against a deadline, overwhelmed with work and extracurricular activities, or in the midst of a personal crisis, and who in a moment of panic violated the code of academic honesty.

“I don’t know why I did it,” they tell us, honest tears streaming down their cheeks. “I believe in the honor code. I let my professor down, I let myself down. I feel so ashamed.” It breaks your heart.

“Why didn’t you ask your professor for an extension?” we ask them. “Why didn’t you go ask for help with the assignment?”

“I really like Professor So-and-so and I didn’t want her to think badly of me,” they will answer, or “I’d already asked for an extension before and I didn’t want to do it again, especially so close to the deadline.” Or, “I didn’t think my ideas were sophisticated enough. I didn’t want to look stupid, so I copied from this article online.”

Time and again we see students who are fundamentally honest and ethical people, but found themselves incapable of admitting they were in trouble, or that they couldn’t handle their workload, students who couldn’t bear to appear unable to pull it all off with “effortless perfection.” Unable to live up to an unachievable standard, they have fallen below an achievable moral threshold. It breaks your heart.

So I beg of you: Ask for an extension if you need one; there isn’t a professor on this campus who didn’t take an extension as a student. Ask for help if you need it; nobody expects you to already know what you’ve come here to learn. And if you don’t get the extension, if it’s too late to get help, just suck it up and take the hit. If it turns out you bit off more than you can chew, that you can’t handle all that work while playing varsity and singing a cappella and having a brilliant love life, so be it. So the world will know you aren’t perfect after all. Neither is anyone else. But you’ll still have your integrity and, believe me, that’s worth far more than an illusion of effortless perfection.

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