Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nakedness, soul and why you should care about the Honor Code

Ok I’m going to try to pull together a couple ideas that have been buzzing around my head, some for weeks, others for months. So here we go in the order that makes sense to me.

First up is a conversation I had at Mel’s with a good friend in the weeks before graduation. As a recurring commitment of ours ended for the final time, we discussed the feeling of all the duties, titles and responsibilities we had been given or accumulated throughout the years being stripped away. “I’m in high school” *nah uh* “I go to Harvard-Westlake” *no you don’t* “I’m on the newspaper” *check next year’s staff box*

It leaves one with the haunting feeling of nakedness. Because after all, as my friend Dr. Zeuss so eloquently put it, we come to define ourselves not by who we are, but by what we do. And as we stop doing those things that we do, there’s that void and feeling of being placeless.

With that ending though comes the requisite new beginning. As the image you crafted for yourself, or the labels that stuck to you against your will become remnants of your past, you have the chance to start all over again. Terrifying if you loved who you were. Liberating if you didn’t. Probably somewhere in between for most people. Definitely exciting.

But the thing is, even though I just wrote about the “chance to start all over again,” the truth is that chance doesn’t really exist. It does exist in the sense of the things that you do, but when you dig deeper to who you really are, some intrinsic force, “soul” (or call it what you will) that sticks with you throughout your life experience, that chance never really existed.

That soul however is what guides you to choose who you are and of course what you do and the path your life takes for your life’s duration.

Now to step back into the concrete for a moment. As a Prefect this year at Harvard-Westlake in a turbulent year chockfull of Honor Code issues, I was involved in lots of different discussions and asked lots of interesting questions. One question that stuck with me for the last few months was one that went something like this:

“I have my own set of morals that I follow irrespective of Harvard-Westlake’s Honor Code. I don’t know what the Honor Code says. I don’t care about the Honor Code. I’m a perfectly fine law-abiding person already. Why should I care about the Honor Code?”

I always felt like this was such an easy question, but I was never able to really articulate my answer clearly. I would stumble through an explanation that contained in parts, “It’s your duty” and “you signed your name to the Honor Code in 7th grade” and a couple helpings of angry frustration at my inarticulate answer.

But now that I’m a little bit removed from it all, I think I’ve gained some more clarity into it all (with the help of Sonya Mitchell's senior column.).

Sonya writes, “…I realized a sad but accurate fact: the class of 2008 is a mere piece of the Harvard-Westlake mosaic.”

That fact doesn’t strike me as sad at all. And it makes perfect sense. Just as we talked about before, that Harvard-Westlake student was merely what I did, not who I was. So to borrow Sonya’s language, that identity was just a mere piece of the David Alpert mosaic. And as we covered before, it was just a mere cursory piece, especially relative to the deeper soul in that mosaic of me.

So to make the biggest leap here in my thinking and complete the analogy, the class of 2008 was not who Harvard-Westlake was, but “what it did.” The myriad accomplishments and identities in my class and every other class don’t really matter because they are passing phenomena. The same goes for the teachers, the classes, the sports teams, et al. So that begs the question, if my thinking suggests that everything Harvard-Westlake is known for is merely “what it did,” then what really is Harvard-Westlake? What is its soul?

And here we are, finally back at the Honor Code. I don’t mean to suggest that a decade-old code of ethos comprises the entirety of the school’s soul, especially considering the current lack of respect it garners, but take a look at the facts. It has already survived countless coaches, teams, classes and administrators. So I think it plays a pretty hefty part in that soul.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is why you should care about the Honor Code. For while you and your own set of morals are good for your own life, while you are living out the part of “what you do” that is Harvard-Westlake student, you’re beholden to the maintenance, or even betterment, of the soul of the institution. So in a way my answer hasn’t moved all that far from “it’s your responsibility.” But there’s a lot more depth to that responsibility than it might appear on the surface.

Yep, I like the sound of that answer. What do all y’all think?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quick update on the gap year (aka the reason you're here reading)

I received an e-mail from someone at Cross-Cultural Solutions this past week saying that my Russian Letter of Invitation has arrived. Now I have to complete a two page form and send away $180 to get my Russian visa. Jaime has already completed this. As usual, I'm behind the curve.

Jaime and I also booked our flights in the last month. I leave for SVO airport in Moscow on September 27th and arrive on the 28th before 3 pm for a 5 hour bus ride to Yaroslavl, where I'll spend the next 7 weeks. The program ends on November 16th and our CCS program in South Africa does not begin until November 22nd so we debated about coming home quickly or going straight to Cape Town and we decided on the latter. I think the 5 or 6 days will make for good practice for living outside of an organized program, which we'll be doing for the majority of the second half of the year. We leave Cape Town for Los Angeles on December 27th and arrive on the 28th. I'm excited to be able to spend New Year's at home!

Jaime and I plan on meeting next week to begin seriously planning that second half of the year. We know that it will include Australia, New Zealand, China and a Spanish-speaking country, possibly Spain. Complications arose with China however. China is the only one of these four countries that will be on a program, again with CCS, so we have to work with the scheduled start dates. We assumed that they'd be similar to the 2008 start dates, and had pinpointed 3/15, the Ides of March, as a good time after spending a month each organic farming in Aus and NZ. However, CCS wasn't as cooperative and their start dates for Xi'an are 2/28 and 3/28. So it seemed we'd either have to spend two weeks more or less than we originally planned for Down Under.

Then Jaime found out that he had a cousin getting married in Thailand in March, and we figured it'd be convenient to leave from New Zealand. So now it appears we'll wait on the wedding date, maybe spend a week there and then move on to China. We originally planned on 7 weeks in China, but that might have to be cut down. More updates to come after Jaime and I begin to plan next week!

And finally, about a month later-the senior column

For your reading convenience, here is the senior column I last blogged about. You can click on the link below for my vanity's sake (the number of hits are tracked). Below the column are some more random thoughts about it, so scroll down even if you've read it already.

On failure and expectaions

By David Alpert

I never broke five minutes in the mile. I wasn’t elected Head Prefect. As a matter of fact, I haven’t fulfilled a single campaign promise to date. I didn’t get into Georgetown- early, regular, off the waitlist. I was quite possibly the only senior ever to be a three year veteran of the JV Cross Country team.

I didn’t clear 10 feet in the pole vault. I don’t even have a single varsity letter to show for my seven seasons of running. And I never found my “That 70’s Show”-esque group of friends where everybody’s comfortable with each other and the laugh track checks in every couple of minutes. And my grades- well they were just plain mediocre.

I failed at Harvard-Westlake. Or at least I didn’t meet my expectations, which if you’re keeping score at home just so happens to be the same as failing. Maybe my expectations were too high.

But no, I don’t buy that. That thinking suggests a self-pitying lack of ability and capability. The expectations were just right. And in some respects, so was the failure.

Emma Kaplan and I fought for months over the journey speech for ring ceremony. (She won and did a great job with it). But now that I have my soapbox, allow me to step up on it and preach.The failure was right. And why was the failure right? Because naturally, it taught me something success never could have. Something much more important than the easy lessons success teaches you, that hard work and determination pay off.

I want so badly to have something profound to say here; some life changing words that will immortalize my name at 3700 Coldwater Canyon long after I’m gone. But the truth is I don’t. Not here. Not now. But someday I will. And I think that’s what I learned at Harvard-Westlake. I learned that despite not measuring up, despite failing time after time, I still expected great things of myself.

(Now here’s for my shameless plug. If you like my writing, or if you like me, or hell if you’d just like to get a taste for the world through my eyes, check out my blog. It can be found at That’s ‘never ever say no dot blogspot dot com.’ The name’s explained in my first post. I leave for my gap year at the end of September, but I’ve already started writing, and I plan to keep writing all summer long. So come check it out. And now back to the happily ever after already in progress…)

I think that’s what is going to make me great. Not today. Not yesterday, because in my opinion I wasn’t great here. But someday I will be great because no matter how many times I fail, I still expect to be great. And I think I owe that to Harvard-Westlake.

So thank you, Harvard-Westlake. And to the rest of you, all the current, former and future students, faculty and staff that make up Harvard-Westlake, keep the school’s motto in mind Possunt Quia Posse Videntur, or ‘They Can Because They Think They Can.’ Keep thinking you can and you will. Be great today.

Now here's some musings on the column. First, a comment about two failures. When I first showed the column to my dad he commented that he thought I would offend some of my friends with the "That 70s Show" line. Honestly, that thought hadn't crossed my mind, because I thought that anyone who knows me would agree. I made a ton of great friends, and met lots of amazing people at HW, but I never found that tight knit group that I expected to find or make. Still two of my best friends reported that their mothers expressed either shock or sadness at that line.

Second, the Georgetown line. This is the one I was most nervous about because I thought this is where I bared the most about myself. I had sat silently in Weiler Hall, the Chronicle's building and had listened to other people on the staff talk disparagingly about Georgetown, in terms of its ranking and other meaningless numbers. I had kept the fact that I applied early to Gtown a secret for a long time before the decisions came out before deciding to tell my friends. But neither of those factors were what gave me pause.

I was more concerned about the fact that in the print version of the May issue of the Chronicle, a reader could read my column and then flip a few pages earlier in the Senior Supplement to the matriculation list, check where I picked to go to college (William and Mary) and misperceive my feelings. The truth is that I'm really, really excited for WM. (As a matter of fact, just about an hour ago, I bought my first piece of WM gear online). I just felt, and still feel, that I might be happier at Georgetown, or better served by going there. But that in no way, shape or form diminishes my excitement for Williamsburg.

Oh and I was also given pause by the fact that while I wasn't accepted from Georgetown's Waiting List, I wasn't denied either. I was moved to the university's Extended Waiting List, which I still had/have a chance to get accepted from. But chances of that happening are looking slimmer by the day, as they free that wait list, and tell you to stick with whatever school you chose, on June 30. And I honestly am very okay with that. I'm sad that I probably won't be going to Georgetown. But then I think about Wren Hall, (the oldest building on WM's campus dating back to the 1700s where incoming freshmen take the honor pledge), the Sunken Gardens, (which is actually more a long stretch of grass than a garden with brick walkways) and the little stone at the entrance to William and Mary's campus that has the school's name and founding date of 1693 inscribed on it, and I get really happy. So it all works.

Finally, a last word about the ending I chose. When I read it again, it still sort of seems like a cop-out. I originally wrote it as filler and planned on replacing it, but then I showed it to someone who really liked it and I began to consider it as a legitimate possibility. Then I showed it to someone else who agreed with my fear that it was too sappy. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there was too much truth in the ending to replace it. If I were to replace it with anything, in my mind it would have to be something deep and profound. I had mulled it over for a long time and still had come up with zilch, so instead of faking something, I just wrote the truth. I'm okay with that. And I've gotten lots of nice comments from friends, family and even a complete stranger so I feel good about ending my Chronicle career on that note.