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An Honorable Misunderstanding

Photo by Haley '15.
Photo by Haley ’15.

I’m just going to come out and say it. When I first came to Marlborough, I was terrified of the Honor Code and the Understanding. Don’t get me wrong; they help the School foster a community of trust, and their principles have become some of the most unique and important aspects of Marlborough’s identity.

However, as a wee preteen, the thought of getting expelled for neglecting to return a classmate’s pencil legitimately horrified me. Once, in 8th grade, I cried when I came home to find someone else’s Global Studies homework in my binder, convinced that my unintentional offense was grounds for an Honor Code Violation, if not expulsion. Maybe not everyone was quite as petrified of the “don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat” concept as I was, and perhaps my fear was slightly irrational—considering I am not, in fact, a thief, a liar or a cheater—but I do believe that there was some logic behind my anxiety.

Coming from a rather relaxed elementary school, where the rules were often expressed through song or clever rhyme, the straightforwardness of the expectations that Marlborough had for its students was oddly daunting to me. Hypotheticals constantly flooded my mind: “What if a teacher thinks I’m cheating when I’m just stretching my neck? What if my thesis is the same as someone else’s? What if a test is not fair at all?” With lots of rules to follow, and absolutely no desire to break any of them, I took it upon myself to fret endlessly over all the possible ways I could stumble onto the wrong side of the law.

In my second semester of 8th grade, when I received my first demerit slip, I was, as you can imagine, utterly distraught. I forgot to return an ARC laptop to its proper place in the cart, and instead carelessly deserted it on a table near the study cubicles. How could I have been so foolish?

As I walked through the halls that day, I could feel the eyes of my peers and teachers burning into my cable-knit pullover. As far as I was concerned, that little slip of paper was a permanent stain on my previously unblemished record. The single demerit may not have lowered my grade, but it certainly lowered my spirits.

At break, I ran to Ms. Rosi’s room and called my mother in a panic, relaying my tragic tale between sobs. I spent the remainder of break with my head buried in Ms. Rosi’s beanbag chair in shame. It was an ordeal, to say the least.

Now, as I am about to begin my senior year, I am able to laugh at my paranoid past, but I think my stress about living up to the “Marlborough standard” is an extreme version of something all students experience. Everyone is probably pretty clear on the “don’t cheat” concept, but when it comes to the challenge of achieving perfect grades or running a million clubs, the purple banner of “excellence” often waves in the backs of our minds.

School is hard, and even terrifying at times, but, as someone who wound up with another girl’s homework and lived to tell the tale, I can assure you, life goes on.