By Cameron McCusker ’10, Sixth Grade Teacher
“At Cardigan, the Core Values are the most important aspect of what we teach,” says Director of Student Life Nick Nowak.
Academics are crucial to stimulating the intellectual growth and development of the boys so that they are ready for secondary school, and athletics are incredibly beneficial to their physical and social development. But not all Cardigan students will grow up to be professional athletes, and they won’t remember all the details from all of their classes.
They will, however, all leave Cardigan needing the building blocks for developing strong character and leading responsible and meaningful lives. The Cardigan Core Values of Courage, Integrity, Respect, and Compassion become touching stones, the ideals on which everyone in the community can always reflect and learn from, both now and in the future.
Each month an assembly takes place that both details and recognizes certain students and other community members who are “caught in the act” of doing good deeds and practicing the Core Values. Last month, for instance, new eighth-grade student Tedy O’Keefe ’21 was found on several occasions staying behind in the dining hall to clean up messes left behind and set tables, despite it being his week off as a waiter. Additionally, Justin Lee ’20 was recognized for his help conducting room inspections while his dorm’s floor leader and faculty members were busy. While this is nothing out of the ordinary for boys like Justin and Tedy, recognizing the impact they make on their community serves to emphasize how embodying the Core Values benefits everyone.
The community-wide “buy-in” to the School’s Core Values is more than something that is aspired to as some far-off objective to reach years down the road. Cardigan is dedicated to personifying the values and putting them into action. And they are seen and practiced in almost every area of life at Cardigan, by students and faculty alike.
New ninth grader Will Rassier ’20 says he most often sees the Core Values in action in the chapel, through the respect and compassion of the entire community when other members of the community both courageously and honestly share advice, experiences, and wisdom. “During chapel, we come together as a community and take time to reflect on different topics and overcoming challenges,” says Will. “Many of our chapel discussions talk about being kind, honest, and brave.” It’s a weekly opportunity to pause in our busy schedule and make sure our hearts are in the right place.
The opportunity to put those thoughts into action often occurs in the dorms. The respect and compassion that it takes for a group of young men to coexist in a dorm at such an early age requires the adoption of these values—something that is sometimes difficult, even for people who are far more advanced in age. “In the dorm, we assist each other and help one another complete our duties,” School leader Bryce Terry ’20 says, “not because we have to, but because we want to. We want our Cardigan brothers to succeed as much as we want ourselves to succeed.”
Cardigan’s Core Values are also put into action in the dining hall. During meals, new eighth grader Mark Anstiss ’21 says he often sees students and faculty alike engaging in open and honest conversations and taking an active interest in each other’s lives. In addition, following each meal, students are tasked with restoring the dining hall and each of its tables to usable and optimal condition. Students, and faculty as well, quickly recognize that without engaging in both conversations and dining hall cleanup, the community in which we live would quickly fall apart. The respect they show for their physical surroundings as well as their peers is crucial to living together.
Athletics also allows students to practice Cardigan’s Core Values. Students cheering on their peers invokes both compassion and courage, while the ideals of sportsmanship that so many Cardigan coaches—both past and present—preach and practice illustrates significant respect for opponents and the games themselves.
All this is to say, there is no one area in which the Core Values are more prominent than any other. There is no building in which these values are welcomed more warmly or practiced more actively. There is no scenario in which students are absolved of their responsibility as Cardigan citizens to uphold these values. And, at the same time, there is not one singularly correct way to experience all of these Core Values.
It is the most important aspect of what we teach, indeed. No subject matter can be understood and practiced so universally among students of different ages and grade levels. No sporting event can result in every party succeeding and winning simply by participating, the way those who embody these values win just by playing. Yet Cardigan’s Core Values grip each Cougar by the heart, and guide the actions of all who immerse themselves in our community.
So when students or faculty get “caught in the act” of doing nice things or living among each other through the guidance of Cardigan’s values, there is no act taking place. The genuine nature of the good that consumes the School does sometimes go unrewarded or unadvertised. This is not an injustice, however, because rewards and praise have never been the motivation for living by these principles. As Mr. Nowak would say, we live by these values because they are the “building blocks to a meaningful and responsible life.”
No member of the Cardigan community is exempt from putting these values into action—from the school’s longest-tenured faculty member, to its newest and youngest student, and all in between. The power of these values comes from the strength of the community—and vice versa, the strength of the Cardigan community comes from these values.
The more we use them, the better we get. The better we get, the more we use them.
It’s not a bad cycle to get stuck in.