MRC Monday Celebrates Leadership and Moral Courage

Episcopal celebrated the last MRC Monday of the school year on May 15. With a focus on Leadership and Moral Courage, The High School welcomed Dr. John Hillen, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs under George W. Bush. During the afternoon session, students spent time in small groups with 22 visiting alumni to hear about their journeys after Episcopal and the ways they feel they show moral courage in their lives. 

Dr. John Hillen

In an insightful speech on ethical leadership, former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Dr. John Hillen dived into the importance of creating a culture that fosters ethical behavior. Speaking to an audience of students, faculty, and staff, he explained different leadership perspectives through a barrel and apples analogy. 

“If the barrel is rotten, it will rot all the apples inside regardless of the circumstance,” Hillen said on Fox Stage in Pendleton Hall. “Therefore, the focus should not solely be on identifying and eliminating ‘bad apples’ but
rather on creating an environment where doing the right thing is celebrated.” 

Hillen also shared a personal experience during his time in the military. After discovering that some students and instructors were cheating together on exams, he found a way to tackle the underlying culture that allowed dishonesty to flourish. He went on to lead a commission on ethics in the U.S. Navy. 

As an alumnus of Duke University, he cited a study from his alma mater about human behavior. The findings revealed that people can rationalize their actions, even when engaging in dishonest behavior. “Many people make common rationalizations, such as ‘everyone else is doing it,’ or they perceive the action as victimless,” he explained. He emphasized the need for leaders to be vigilant in creating an environment that discourages and addresses unacceptable forms of lying, cheating, and stealing.

After his lecture, Hillen engaged in a Q&A session with the future head of the Honor Committee Jayden Muthaiah ’24. Throughout the session, Hillen shared personal examples from his professional life. He also candidly admitted to his shortcomings. He acknowledged that exhibiting moral courage can be challenging and inconvenient, but doing the right thing in adversity is always essential. “Moral courage does not always involve grand gestures, but rather it often presents itself in smaller, everyday decisions,” he explained. 

Students gained valuable insights into the significance of moral courage, the rewards of public service, and the importance of aligning their careers with personal strengths. They also received a deeper understanding of leaders’ crucial role in shaping organizational culture and the collective responsibility to nurture an environment that upholds moral values.
Afternoon Small Group Discussions with Alumni
Students spent the afternoon engaging with 21 alumni from different industries. From politics to the nonprofit sector, each small group facilitator shared their respective journey of how EHS prepared them to lead lives of moral courage.

With a Ph.D. in philosophy, Dr. Edward Rackley ’84 spoke to students about his belief in the power of humanities, a love that began at The High School. Rackley designs, delivers, and evaluates aid programs that prevent atrocities, respond to victims, and rebuild societies after conflict. He works for Nobel prize-winning NGOs, global philanthropies, and multilateral and UN agencies. “I tried to convey the utility and importance of a service mindset, of giving back and of trying to improve our world, not for money or glory but because it's a win-win for ourselves, our community and the direct beneficiaries of our service practice, whether we know them or not,” he said. “The importance of service was instilled in me by my family but it was reinforced and deepened at EHS as a value that was not only expected of us but also demonstrated regularly, in countless different ways, by faculty and peers.”

It was wonderful to have so many alumni return to campus to share their experience and insight about these core tenets with our current students. Our visiting alumni included: Ken Tyler ’83, Edward Rackley ’84, Caldwell Clarke ’97, Scott Harris ’97, Danielle O’Banion ’97, Tyler Brown ’99, Kino Clark ’03, Bo Stover ’04, Odon von Werssowetz ’04, Hillary Molitor ’05, Brennan Lynch ’05, Zach Glubiak ’08, Bitsy Motley ’09, Kelsey Tressler ’09, Olivia Vietor ’09, Alexa Williams ’10, Jasmine Jones ’11,  Nancy Walker Doherty ’11, Somer Glubiak ’13, Harleigh Bean ’14, Kelsey Anderson ’16, and Hunt Wasden ’18.

To read more about our visiting alumni, click here