Ethics Hero: Pasco High School (Dade City, Fla.)


I need this story to get the previous post out of my head.

In Mark Harris’s novel “Bang The Drum Slowly,” best known as the inspiration for the film that introduced Robert DeNiro to the movie-going public, a major league baseball team exhibits uncharacteristic kindness toward a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. The book, like the film and the stage adaptation, is about kindness and the Golden Rule, an ethical value that seldom inspires literature or art. Kindness is not particularly exciting, but it may be the most ethical of all ethical virtues. The serious illness and impending death of someone in our life often brings the importance of kindness into sharp focus. “Everybody’d be nice to you if they knew you were dying,” says the doomed catcher, Bruce Pearson, to his room mate and champion, star pitcher Henry Wiggen.  “Everybody knows everybody is dying,” Wiggen replies. “That’s why people are as good as they are.”

Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia  learned that she had an inoperable brain tumor when she was in elementary school. Until two years ago, treatment had kept the tumor  in remission, but the mass began growing again when she was 15. Undaunted, Garcia continued to go to school, work diligently, and keep a positive and uncomplaining outlook, earning the admiration of her classmates, teachers and school officials.

The 17-year old began her senior year attending classes and doing well, but her condition ultimately deteriorated to the point where she was often unable to attend class. She was determined to graduate, and when it became evident Vanessa would not finish her courses and might not survive long enough to participate in the commencement ceremony at the end of this month, the district arranged for a special, early ceremony at the high school just for her. But the cancer wouldn’t cooperate: her family informed the school that Garcia had been moved to a hospice, and was too ill to leave her bed.

So Pasco High’s administrators brought the ceremony to the hospice. Students, teachers, district officials and others filled a large room down the hall from Garcia’s hospice room. There were banners, balloons, flowers, and speeches from dignitaries and classmates, saluting Vanessa’s character and courage. Nurses wheeled Garcia’s bed into the room, and she was dressed in her cap and gown. She could only communicate with a thumbs up sign, but it she made it clear that she understood and appreciated the ceremony. Finally, to applause and cheers, Principal Kari Kadlub handed the girl her diploma, pronouncing Garcia an inspiration for all who know her.

Let us hope that this is true, and the inspiration sticks. Too often, it does not.

At the end of “Bang the Drum Slowly,” the narrator, pitcher Wiggen, recalls how quickly everyone on the team went back to their old habits and selfish ways after Bruce went home to die, even neglecting to attend the player’s funeral. Even Wiggen, who was the leader of the effort to make the catcher feel loved and appreciated in his last days, ruefully recalls his own failing. Bruce had asked him to send him a World Series program (the team won the pennant after Bruce became too ill to play), and Henry forgot to mail it until it was too late. How hard would it have been, he rebukes himself, to just put it in an envelope and mail it?

Well, sadly, the answer for most of us is: hard. We are overwhelmed with our own lives and problems, and focusing on the problems and needs of others is a constant challenge. We can manage it for a while, most of us, but eventually, the human tendency of “out of sight, out of mind” takes over. As in Henry’s case, recognizing this human design flaw is a major step on the road to overcoming it. At the end of his story, Henry Wiggen resolves to remember what he learned from Bruce by resolving to be kinder to everyone, all the time. “From here on in, I rag nobody,” he pledges.

It’s a start.


Pointer: Fark

Facts and Graphic: The Tampa Tribune

22 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Pasco High School (Dade City, Fla.)

  1. Nice post Jack. Sometimes even the educational system gets it right. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time so that “out of sight and out of mind” does not take over.

  2. We need to celebrate the good even more than chastize the bad, to be sure those are seen as the goal.

  3. I salute the brave administrator that did this right. Too many of them would be worried about liability or indifferent. Interesting though that The Bellamy Brothers are alumni (“Let You’re Love Flow”).

  4. If I’m getting the details straight, Jack, this high school is part of the same district that failed in the “Cone of Silence” contretemps. Maybe somebody learned something? We can hope.

  5. Hurray! A public administrator who did something right, kind, and likely against the policies of his/her school district. A small ray of hope, but still there.

    Unfortunately, this does not override the moronic, lock-step, negative, ill-advised behavior by administrators in most public schools. Go home-schoolers!

  6. Very touching story.

    I hate to be a poo-pooer, but don’t we confer “hero” status upon those who potentially or actually sacrifice a great deal of personal gain or personal motivation in order to achieve a greater good for others?

    I don’t see anything the High School did that really sacrificed anything of substance to give this girl what she earned along with appropriate solemnity and recognition.

    • Or is it that pretty much the entire public education system has shown itself to be colossal idiots and stone faced morons that schools like this benefit from bell curve grading?

    • It did the right thing in a situation where most schools do not, or argue they cannot. There was a grievously ill student in my graduating class—I have no idea if she died—but there was no large special ceremony brought to her bedside. Sure it’s a sacrifice. Any kind act that requires giving time to another is a sacrifice.

      • Doesn’t pass the test. Heroes don’t *just* sacrifice. They sacrifice a great deal of personal gain or even just personal status quo to benefit others (as mentioned). They often sacrifice despite a great deal of possible negative consequences for themselves.

        I don’t see how the high school sacrificed a great deal to do the right thing.

        Your first line of your response implies you are simply grading on a curve.

        • That presupposes that just being kind and considerate—bucking the culture—isn’t heroic. These aren’t heroes, they are ETHICS heroes…those who model ethical virtues for the rest of us. You don’t have to take a bullet to be a hero. Sure you grade on a curve. When and if I see a biased MSM journalist step out and say about, say, Benghazi—“yup, we were wrong, and we let Obama lie his way out of a fiasco and possibly to a re-election he didn’t deserve”—that journalist’s a hero, even though all he or she is doing is what everyone should do automatically. In this culture, that’s heroic. So is what the school did.

          • That journalist would be a hero, because given the massive peer pressure from the Benghazi cover-up movement — they actually would be risking a considerable amount to themselves professionally.

            The school, however, does not have any mass movement AGAINST it doing this right thing, that represents any real risk of personal loss.

            I see “grading on a curve” as a rationalization, given that there ISN’T a mass movement against doing the right thing. Whereas the Benghazi journalist hypothetical, doing the right thing does go against a mass movement that could impact it negatively for doing the right thing.

            • You are insisting on a narrow definition of “hero” that is at odds with how EA has always defined it for the purposes of ethics discussion and analysis. Hero means “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities” You can also quibble that a school can’t be a hero—I’m surprised P.M. didn’t come up with that one:”You DO know that a school isn’t an individual, correct?”. But kindness is a noble quality. And an unusual display of kindness is by definition “outstanding,” because it stands out.

              • I don’t think I’ve pigeon holed this to being individuals only. If my grading on a curve analogy looked like that, I didn’t mean for it too. Of course organizations can be heroes.

                However, my ‘quibble’ is with the component of “hero” that involves sacrifice. If EA’s definition of Hero doesn’t require sacrifice of substantial gain or involves risk to itself, then sure, the school is a Hero.

                So is the guy who says “howdy” in passing on the sidewalk.

                • By the way, I only cited the group definition of hero to point out that EA has its own version of the term, for mission purpose. In general, I think the word is overused in the media. A hostage, for example, isn’t really a hero, just someone who survives an ordeal. The defenders of the Alamo are classic heroes, but if that’s the standard, heroism becomes too rare a phenomenon to be useful.

                  I bet someone in the bureaucratic muck got crap for the hospice graduation from some bean-counter–or would have, if he wasn’t afraid of being recorded.

              • A school that would be risking something in regards to a mass movement?

                One that encourages firearm education and even participation in a marksmanship team in an effort to actually teach children about firearms…

                  • Ok, then as long its a feel good story that makes all warm and fuzzy inside, then there must be a hero somewhere.

                    I don’t even have to try to poopoo that standard.

                    We’re discussing what makes a hero, feel free to contribute.

                    • Perhaps a two fold definition of hero is order – ethics “heroes” opposite “dunces”; “champions” opposite “kaboom”-inducing individuals?

                      So easily this particular story could have been filed under “dunce”. For instance, the parents could have asked for just a cap and gown to hold an unofficial ceremony, and have gotten a bureaucratic, “we don’t have the resources…” kind of response.

                      That this school went (slightly) above and beyond should be acknowledged, especially in a forum where unethical pettiness of similar magnitude is so often rebuked. Provide a positive example to show that living ethically isn’t so hard, and provide assurances that kindness won’t (always) be met with the blank stare of indifference.

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