A Hampden-Sydney Man Goes to Tulane

A Hampden-Sydney Man Goes to Tulane

As anyone who has perused my 70+ blogs in the past year or so knows, I rarely write about myself, and never about my family. I am a life coach; the story is about the client, not me. In the case of this particular blog, I am going to break my rule. I am going to write about my son.

My son is 20 and like a lot of highly motivated young people, spent a great deal of his high school energy working to gain acceptance in his college of choice. His choice was Hampden-Sydney College, located in the bucolic countryside of Hampden Sydney, Virginia.

As it turns out, my son mindfully selected a school that is the oldest private charter college in the South, and the 10th oldest college in the U.S. It was, I discovered, the very last college founded before the American Revolution, and one of the only three remaining four-year, all-men’s colleges in the U.S. He selected it based on difficulty (7th hardest in the country), but what made it special, from a father’s point of view, was the honor code. The mission of the school being “form good men and good citizens in an atmosphere of sound learning,” their Honor Code serves an integral part of everyday life at Hampden Sydney.

As a new student, each young man pledges (as did my son) that for life that he will not “lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” The pledge takes place during a (rarely spoken of) ceremony in which the entering class sits in absolute silence while each young man, when his name is called, rises to come forward in front his peers and signs the pledge. This plainly worded code of behavior applies to the young men on and off campus. The Honor Code system is student-run, allowing for a trial of peers, adjudicated by a court of students. Students convicted of an honor offense face anywhere between one to three semesters of suspension or in some cases, expulsion. Interestingly, a separate Code of Student Conduct covers the typical “behavioral” infractions like parking infractions or underage drinking that don’t rise to the level of an honor offense, which only arises if deception or theft is involved. The student body willingly lives with, in effect, a two-tier system conduct where they, themselves, maintain discipline. The Code of Student Conduct, (regarding policies on parking or drinking) is enforced by the school, with the help of the Student Court, — but here is the big deal— the Honor Code system, with its more most serious penalties for lying, cheating, or stealing, is maintained exclusively by the students themselves. Though grievous violation of the Code of Student Conduct may result in expulsion, it is rare that any student is expelled, except by sentencing of the Honor Court. Can you image that at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or any of the other schools of equal caliber? Unheard of…right?

Hampden–Sydney College has a unique culture beyond discipline. Following in the “old school” traditions of the Honor Code, students are also issued a copy of “To Manner Born, To Manners Bred: A Hip-pocket Guide to Etiquette for the Hampden–Sydney Man.” This small book, which they are required to keep in their jackets at all times, covers everything from basic manners, how to greet and introduce people, how to respond to invitations, how to dress, the difference between a black-tie and white-tie event, how to choose a wine, etc. The college publishes the book as a tool for managing, with grace, a variety of social settings. In short, while they gain a classical liberal arts education, they are taught to be gentlemen. In this case, by “gentleman,” they mean a man who defines his life by “honor, service, public virtue, and personal self-restraint.” This is what the college means when they say “good men and good citizens.” Recognizing that the young men don’t live in an insular world, they maintain that the characteristics of a gentleman are as important now as they were in the 18th century.

A year ago my son was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and soon thereafter entered treatment in Virginia at a local hospital. At the end of the Spring 2016 semester, he was referred to doctors in Baton Rouge, who soon referred him to a specialist at University Medical Center in New Orleans. There he met Dr. Kara De Felice, the head of the Inflammatory Bowel Department and the Medical Center. She literally saved him. Her treatment program worked as no other had. He prudently remained out of school for the Autumn 2016 semester while being treated. He, we all hope, is one final test away from remission. Remicade and Dr. De Felice will be his friends for a very long time. Here is the rub; the insurance that pays for his treatments will not fully cover them in Virginia. It only pays for a little more than half out-of-network, while it pays the full amount in-network. Doesn’t sound fair? Well, the world just works that way sometimes. It is no one’s fault and we are all happy that he can take the treatments here at all.

Now my son is a smart young man; through this entire experience, he has grown wise beyond his years. He came to me in the fall and said that he had decided to transfer from his beloved Hampden-Sydney to a college here in Louisiana. We looked at several colleges and it appeared that Tulane University was as close as he could find to Hampden-Sydney. Admittedly not as academically challenging, but small, intimate, and good programs in his areas of interest. The promise of Mardi-Gras didn’t hurt either.

So now, soon, say a few weeks, this young man who has sworn an oath that he takes very seriously, to “not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do” will attend his orientation day and begin as a sophomore at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. In these days of things ranging from “safe spaces” to “fuck you, it’s all about me”, it is still important to have principals and practice them. To have come from somewhere where the important lessons of respect and honor are part of the program and not just words on a piece of paper, now that is a big deal.

I hope that Tulane is ready for him; I know that he is ready for Tulane.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.