We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor Discusses Leading a Life of Integrity at Convocation 2018
"How would you like to be remembered?" At our August 29 Convocation ceremony, Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor shared her reflections on one of our core values, which is also our theme for the 2018-2019 school year—integrity. Following this transcript of her opening remarks is a list of recommended resources to use as we all consider how we can journey toward leading lives of greater integrity as one, united community.
"Leading a Life of Integrity"
by Elizabeth J. McGregor
When I came back home to Pasadena and Westridge this summer, after visiting family and friends in England and Scotland, I had to pass through a couple of scanning machines (if you’ve traveled recently through an airport, you can easily imagine them). And I thought to myself – what if they could really see inside me – not just my skeleton, and the fillings in my teeth – but really deep inside – to the things I hold most dear. They’d certainly see my family and my friends – but they’d also see my deep abiding passion for the education of girls and to Westridge, where I have parked my heart as well as my mind.
And what else might they see? I hope that they would see the values that I want to live up to – the values of Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Inclusion, the core values of Westridge, that represent an essential goodness that brought me here as head of school ten years ago, values to which I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life. Most importantly, I’d want them (and everyone else around) to see that I try to live my days with integrity – and that even if I don’t always live up to the ideal, I’ve learned to admit this, and am determined to continually strive to rise.
When I was little, growing up in England, my mother would talk about people who had a heart of gold – who were kind and thoughtful, who kept their word, who would always do the right thing no matter who was watching – even when no one was watching! These were my first lessons in integrity – not an easy word to grasp – but certainly a concept that I could feel – because it felt uncomfortable if I didn’t live up to expectations of character and behavior, and I knew when I had let someone down. And my mother was a role model, never talking ill of others, following through on her promises, a constant, supportive, loving presence.
I remember two distinct incidents when I was about eight or nine when I really did not live up to the expectations of integrity that had been set for me, or those that I had set for myself. The first was when my younger brother was just beginning to walk, and I got so angry when I had to look after him, that I threw bubble liquid in his face. I told my mother it was accident, but she knew that I had let my red-hot rage get the better of me. The second was when I cut off the edges of a book and repeatedly told my parents that I hadn’t done it. These might seem insignificant, just things that children do from time-to-time, but because I was surrounded by people who spoke with me about integrity, these moments at the time made me want to hide, have stayed with me, and seem profound even today – they made me realize that I didn’t want to feel, or act, or be known in this way.
As I grew older, I became a Brownie and later a Girl Guide (the equivalent of a Girl Scout). The schools I attended were associated with the Church of England – and I sang in the choir each Sunday. Saying the Brownie and Girl Guide pledge, and listening to weekly sermons, meant that I grew up reflecting on what integrity looked like. I respected my elders and the integrity they stood for, especially the Queen. Lessons on leading a life of integrity were all around, and I took them seriously.
It was in middle school when the first really jarring experiences happened that showed me that people don’t always keep their word. This is when Mr. Robertson, my history teacher, saved me from bullying and giving up. He would say to me over-and-over again: “Elizabeth, you have to choose to do the right thing no matter the consequences, be true to yourself and stand up for what you believe, even if you feel that you are alone in the world. Because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to be known and remembered as a person of integrity.” His words and encouragement inspired me to be strong, even when it was difficult.
I owe so much to Mr. Robertson – a man who had survived horrific bombings in the Second World War, and who with his wife, dedicated the rest of his days to teaching the children that they would never be able to have. I kept in touch with him over the years, as I trained to be a teacher, as I had my family, and as I travelled the world. Every time I went back to England I visited him and thanked him for what he had meant to me. He always wanted to know if I was still being true to myself and sharing the value of integrity with those with whom I worked and taught. He helped me stay true to my moral compass.
Which brings us back to today! Your teachers and I agree that integrity, one of our core values as a school, is something that is worthy of special focus this year. I know from conversations with students and adults in our community that we aspire to embody this quality and surround ourselves with others who do as well. We often reference integrity – as we know, it’s one of our core values and it is a thread that we weave through much of what is taught and discussed at Westridge. But that is different from taking time to really think about what it means to us and where we might do better – so that is what we want to do this year.
Integrity, the word, derives from the Latin word “integer” and means whole or complete – and when you leave Convocation this morning, I want you think about how you can seek to grow to be whole and complete in yourself. We all know the feeling of being torn or divided, but when we act with integrity, that inner conflict and division disappears, and we feel whole. When we feel whole, we feel strong, even if a choice is difficult. And acts of integrity build inner strength that sustains us through life.
Spend time thinking and talking with your family, friends, teachers and advisors about what you believe integrity means. (Parents: have dinner with your daughters and discuss integrity and the values that are important to you as a family.) Invent, and discuss scenarios that bring into play decisions related to integrity. Think of role models in your everyday life who demonstrate integrity, and historical figures who lived lives of integrity. Read books about integrity, look for quotes. Find friends who have the courage to act with integrity even when things are hard and thank them for it. Find friends who support you in similar situations. Lead with truth and honesty, even if it makes you feel vulnerable. Empathize with others and their feelings. You will come to be known as someone who keeps her word and can be counted on, and someone who cares.
We are all on this journey to greater integrity together and discussions here at school have started in earnest – for example, toward the end of last year a number of our upper school students responded to a survey where they expressed their desire for greater clarity in defining academic integrity, the ways that they expect their peers to practice it, and what they can do to help make sure this happens. This led to teachers and administrators discussing how we can most effectively deal with cases of academic dishonesty and reinforce community expectations: whether we should have an honor code or an honor council; how we can encourage everyone to take care of our beautiful campus – to pick up and clean up after ourselves and others; what we can do to get back “in” integrity when we’ve fallen short – because this happens to all of us at some time or another – and we need to admit when we make mistakes, be as kind to ourselves as possible, and endeavor to be patient and supportive of those who are also trying to restore their sense of integrity.
The other day, I had a very memorable conversation about integrity with Ms. Dahl, the chair of our math department. She said that throughout her life, whenever she feels unhappy with herself and who she is, she thinks about the person she wants to be – and figures out in which part of her life she is NOT being that person – then she tries to come up with strategies or structures that she can implement to become more in line with the person she wants to be. Acting with integrity takes imagination and commitment, the ability to see what we can be and the determination to take the steps needed to fulfill that vision.
So – how would you like to be remembered? You can certainly be successful in all kinds of ways, and we hope that you will be after attending Westridge! But truly, deep down inside, how would you like to be remembered? I hope that you will answer that you would like to be known, appreciated, and cherished for the way in which you chose to live your life with integrity.
To end my remarks this morning, I’d like to share a quote from an educator and author whose work I really enjoy reading, Dr. Brené Brown. I hope you will take her words to heart:
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
- Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Penguin, New York, due to be published October 9, 2018.
- Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin, New York, 2015.
- Weissbourd, R., et al. (2016). Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions (Created by Making Caring Common, A Project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education). Retrieved from http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/20160120_mcc_ttt_report_interactive.pdf?m=1453303517
- Weissbourd, R., & Jones, S. M. (2014). The children we mean to raise: the real messages adults are sending about values. Retrieved from http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/
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