The National Honor Society explains character as follows: “The student of good character is cooperative; demonstrates high standards of honesty and reliability; and shows courtesy, concern, and respect for others.”
This is reasonable, however shouldn’t every human being act this way? What makes the students in NHS different, beyond the restrictions of this definition?
The huge letters outside as you walk into the building read ICJA. Now, of course those letters stand for Ida Crown Jewish Academy, but each one means so much more. The ICJA student is intelligent, considerate, sometimes a bit jumpy from all the coffee, but altruistic. The ICJA student is also incredibly multitalented, constantly working, jolted to volunteer, and angered by social injustice. Of course, if you walk into any other school, you will find similarly motivated students. I cannot say that ICJA students are the only ones in the country with character, but I can outright say that every student in here has the intrinsic motivation to succeed. Laziness may sometimes get the best of us, of course, but NHS students know that hard work is the only way to achieve a goal.
At ICJA, the combination of character taught through Jewish values and character taught through secular values combine to form a complete individual. Half of each school day is reserved for learning how to be a better person. In the senior boys’ Gemara class, Rabbi Fox begins each lesson by reading Mesilat Yesharim, or the Path of the Just, a beautiful work about leading a life of value and esteem. The fact that learning about moral composition is given as much importance as any other subject proves the passion ICJA educators put forth in ensuring that each student leaves ICJA as a generally good person. Sitting in a classroom here, students learn character from teachers who stay after school to tutor them, or who give up a lunch period to proof an essay. Students find character in unplanned tangents and stories that teachers here so often tell. Teachers act as role models for behavior.
One’s character is also influenced largely by parents, who direct the child’s behavior and make the major decisions. But these influences are only up to a certain age. I’d like to think that the NHS members are all adults. Sure they can take care of themselves in various ways, but what makes them adults is their ability to truly make decisions, to get up every morning and know that they will continue to learn as motivated Jewish students. I see character every day at ICJA. I see it when a student carries his infirm friend’s backpack, or when a class calls up a peer out with the flu. I see it in these green wristbands created by the seniors to help a friend, in hand delivered
mishloach manot boxes on Purim, or when someone picks up trash in the halls when no one is looking. I see character in the responsibility, dignity, and consideration that is reflected off of each NHS member.
Character is more than profession and skill. The list I could make of all of the accomplishments made by NHS seniors could go on forever. In this room alone sit the presidents of student council and the senior class, the editors of the Crown Prints, Charlotte’s Web, and yearbook, and the heads of countless other clubs like Israel Advocacy, Libeinu, HOPE, GNOL, SHAC/JOH, Pencils of Promise, and SHEMA. Also sit the tireless wrestlers, basketball, baseball, and soccer players, fencers, and Mathletes, of course, along with the many selfless volunteers. But there is already a speech about leadership and service.
Character, rather, is the combination of everything, the way one lives his or her life. Each individual in NHS has distinctive character. Some are outgoing, while others are more reserved. Some are radical feminists, while others, well not so much. But what makes this dynamic group so full of integrity is its ability to sit down together and talk. Character is respect. Character is self control. Character is honesty. And character defines each member of the NHS.
42 ICJA seniors were inducted into the National Honor Society in early March. Several new inductees spoke on the tenets of NHS at the ceremony.