I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York. My daughter is being recruited to the softball team there, and we went for an official visit, so that she could check out the place, the culture and the facilities.
Quite honestly, I was blown away. It far exceeded my expectations.
Many have heard of West Point, but may not know its origin. It is the nation’s oldest military outpost, and therefore, it has seen many national dignitaries in its history, including a year-long stay by George Washington. It is located on land perched above the Hudson River, and the entire area and views are beautiful. Most of the buildings have gothic architecture, so they look like something you’d see in Europe, not America. I could go on and on about the history and grandeur of West Point, but there was actually something more striking about it that was unseen.
Honor. West Point has a motto that you see emblazoned in different locations around the post: “Duty, Honor, Country.” It is part of its coat of arms, and can be seen in the stained glass of its exquisite Cadet Chapel, on the floor in one of its buildings, and most especially, in the faces of the cadets that walk quietly and respectfully across the campus.
There is an entirely different air on the West Point campus than you’ll see on typical college campuses. The cadets are clad in uniform, and you won’t see a single cell phone held up to their ears, and no ipods. They are not allowed to use their cell phones between classes, and so from breakfast until 3:00 p.m., they are focused on their classes.
The campus has a reverent quiet to it, which doesn’t mean that the students are somber. Many of them are greeting each other and some laugh and talk together. But there is a clear distinction that shows that each person honors and respects the other, and a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood abounds.
As we walked through the many buildings on campus, including the library, the Hall of Fame, the athletic facilities and the dining hall (which looks very much like Hogwarts’ dining hall), everything was spotless, spit-shined and gleaming. Not a single piece of gum was ground into the concrete, not a single mark was on the walls, not a single piece of trash littered the campus, not a single careless ugly word was heard. And you can bet that “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am” are now a very normal part of their vocabulary.
When we were given the tour by the softball assistant coaches, we went into a building with a long hall and many classes on each side of the hall. Down the length of each hall were coat hooks where the cadets hung their matching coats, and below each coat was a backpack. The assistant coach told us that no one ever has to worry about leaving their backpack in the hallway because honor is such an important part of the West Point culture.
Honor. It was clear that the cadets are expected to honor their surroundings, the facilities, themselves and each other. And the result is something otherworldly, almost heavenly. Sure, the kids there are real. They’ve got their stuff. But when they are held to higher standards, they buck up and meet those expectations–primarily, I think, because they see the result. They feel and see the difference in the environment. They realize that it is a place set apart from the rest of the world, and they are blessed to be a part of it.
Honor is a big part of the Biblical vocabulary. God tells us to honor our parents, the aged and the sabbath. Paul tells us to think upon what is true and honorable. God told Eli, “…those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise me will be lightly esteemed.” (1 Samuel 2:30b) God’s ways, if we would but follow them, have beautiful results.
Let’s return to a life of honor. Let’s honor our magnificent God, each other, our God-given possessions, and the possessions of others. Let’s be honorable in every way, so that we can bring a little bit of heaven to this broken world.