In 1995, my family moved back to Naperville, Illinois, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I had just graduated eighth grade from St. Ann’s school in Lawrenceville. In sixth grade, I went to a Catholic school because kids bullied me in the public schools where I went for the second half of fourth and fifth grade. There were only twelve or thirteen kids in my class at St. Ann’s. And I was going to be starting high school at Waubonsie Valley in Aurora, which had over four thousand kids. Neuqua Valley, another high school in District 204, was being built in a hurry to accommodate the rapid growth. Waubonsie had a lot to offer. And I wish I had been able to apply myself. But I became lost in the crowd because I was lost: I had no sense of my true self—the identity designed and given by God (Ephesians 1:3-6).
We previously lived in Naperville from 1987 or 1988 until 1991. And I went to second, third, and the first half of fourth grade at Clow Elementary, the newly built school in our development. In that regard, life couldn’t be more perfect. I read an article on my home page that caught my eye a few years ago—Naperville had become one of the country’s top five wealthiest places. But when we first moved there, it was largely cornfields. And besides Brook Crossing, for a short time, the rest of that area was undeveloped.
I remember going to Waubonsie on the first day of the second semester of my sophomore year. On the second day, I was heading out the front door to catch the bus, and my father stopped me and said, “You’re coming with me today.” He brought me upstairs. There was a packed military duffle bag in my parents’ room filled with what would be my SOP. And so he drove me from Naperville to Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri. If I remember correctly, it took about six hours with minimal conversation. When I first arrived, most of the kids at Kemper were court-ordered. And instantly, I had a lot of toughening up to do. My father regrets dropping me off there that day. But I’m glad he did. It was for the best. I was on the fast track to dropping out of high school at Waubonsie.
The first six weeks at Kemper were called Phase One. In my first two semesters, including summer school, I was a New Boy. And having no Standard of Honor violations as a New Boy, I became eligible to sign my name on the Standard of Honor during the next ceremony, held twice a year, each Parents Weekend. The Standard of Honor was straightforward—I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate thereof. When I signed this historic Kemper document, I was given a Greek cross with the letters “GCHS” from top to bottom, left to right, in order of importance—God, Country, Home, School—to wear on my uniform.
Being “blood-crossed” by all of the elder Old Boys was tradition. The cross was worn on the left side (over the ribcage). Part of my Class B uniform was a white undershirt. First, whoever was crossing me would pin it to my undershirt—without the backings. Then, they would jab the cross with the palm of their hand and forcefully rub it in all directions (getting me as best they could). Because I was so skinny, some Old Boys were able to pick me up and bounce me on their palm. After my signing, I was crossed by about thirty Old Boys and suspected I had broken ribs. But in return, I became an Old Boy and was given my privileges.
Examples of Old Boy privileges I can remember were things that brought a sense of normalcy to cadet life; touching the table in the mess hall, walking the entire width of the hallway, and using a convenient entrance in the barracks (the Old Boy porch). These things were off-limits to New Boys, and the consequences could be severe. Like all things, Kemper took some getting used to, but it became home after a while. And I have a lot of great memories. Riding along I-70 toward Columbia after graduation, I realized I was leaving for the last time, and I started to cry because that’s when it began to sink in that it was over. I also have some bad memories—cringeworthy moments. As a senior in leadership, I could dish out the hazing I experienced as a sophomore. And I did some terrible things. But I was forgiven of past sins by the blood of Jesus when I placed my faith in Him—the new covenant (Luke 22:20).
One thing was clear between my inner circle of fellow Old Boys concerning the Standard of Honor: don’t get caught. Old Boys that violated the Standard of Honor needed to appear before the Standard of Honor Board, and if the violation were confirmed, they would be “red-lined.” A ceremony where the rest of the Corps of Cadets would do an about-face (turn their backs); staff on duty would draw a red line through their name on the document; and they would be escorted off campus, never able to return.
Did I violate the Standard of Honor? Yes, I did—more than once. I even lied before the Standard of Honor Board to prevent myself from being red-lined. I’m not boasting. I am in no way proud of these things. But the lasting effect the Standard of Honor at Kemper Military School has had on my life—I learned it’s much better for my physical, mental, and emotional health to tell the truth.
And now, as a Christian, I’ve learned that lying affects my spiritual health as well. In John 8, Jesus says of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44 KJV). And in sharp contrast, Jesus is speaking again earlier in the same chapter: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32 KJV).
Image by Dino Reichmuth via Freely Photos