by G. Jack Urso
I always have to preface stories about my undergraduate days by explaining I attended a Conservative Evangelical Christian college in the 1980s, so if this sounds like some kind of bizarre parallel universe in another dimension, that would be correct.
But I digress.
One requirement of the college was that we attend chapel four days a week, between 11 am and Noon, in the large auditorium on campus which also served as the church for Sunday services. Called “The Pledge,” this was a contractual agreement that required us to attend chapel and abstain from dancing, drugs, sex, and going to movies on Sundays. That sounds harsh, but I hasten to add the restriction against playing cards on campus was lifted in 1983, so to confirm Jerry Falwell’s comment about “That liberal college up North,” we were progressive AF in the Regan era.
As background, I should explain that I was to have graduated in December 1987, but because I failed my first year of Spanish, it pushed my graduation date forward one term. Now, I could have just gone home and taken the course at SUNY-Albany, but I knew the instructor at Houghton, who tolerated my low-performing existence, and I have no talent at foreign languages, so I wasn’t anxious to switch boats in mid-stream. I figured I would stay on campus that Spring and go part-time. In order to get financial aid, I had to take at least nine credit hours. I only needed one course, Spanish, but thought I could take a couple others outside my major I always wanted to take, like Social Stratification and another theater or lit course.
The first obstacle I encountered with that course of action was with chapel and Dean Danner. Taking nine credit hours to qualify for financial aid meant that I was still required to attend chapel four days a week. I absolutely bristled at the idea. I always pushed the limit on the number of chapels I could miss without getting expelled, and sometimes exceeding it, usually with a well-timed medical excuse near the very end of the semester when there was really nothing that could be done about it. At this point, needing only one course to graduate I was even less inclined to sit through them. It came to a head one day after I told my advisor I refused to go as I saw it as a pointless waste of my time. After Dean Danner caught wind of it, he asked me to visit him at home so we could talk about it.
We had a long conversation about faith, but particularly about integrity — being a man of your word. Dean Danner was a retired Army Lt. Col., so concepts like honor, respect, and integrity we important to him. I may not like the Pledge, but I signed it, Dean Danner reminded me. I gave my word and as long as I was registered for at least nine credit hours I was committed to attending chapel. Sometimes, there is a cost in keeping one’s word, he noted. In my case, it would be attending chapel.
Now, I want to say that Dean Danner was a real classy guy. He was patient and kind and had a sense of humor. For example, knowing he was perceived as the head Pledge law enforcement officer, he had no problem playfully portraying Big Brother on posters advertising a showing of the film 1984, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton (see image at right). I concede, however, that it was a little less than generous for me to go around adding toothbrush mustaches to the posters. It is probably even a little less generous that I held on to a photograph of it for nearly thirty-five years. I can’t say all our interactions were as pleasant as this meeting, but I can venture a guess he probably turned a blind eye at times.
I thought long and hard about what Dean Danner said and decided he was right. As long as I was registered for nine credit hours, I had to keep my word. So, I dropped a course and no longer had to attend chapel. My integrity was intact. Problem solved.
Ironically, while there is usually a cost to maintain one’s integrity, in my case, by dropping a course, I actually saved money.
Hey, a Big Brother has to make a living, am I right?
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