With debates ranging from the appropriate punishment for actress and convicted shoplifter Winona Ryder to the culpability of a teen-ager who stood by while his 18-year-old friend raped and murdered a 7-year-old girl in a Nevada casino bathroom, the senior class at South Lakes participated in the 12th annual Ethics Day forum Tuesday at a Reston hotel.
Representatives from the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, presenting sponsor Freddie Mac, local businesses and community groups, met with South Lakes seniors to help facilitate discussions about several different ethical dilemmas in the boardroom, the courtroom, the operating room and the classroom.
Paul Kaplan has been overseeing the Ethics Day activities for 10 years. A government teacher at South Lakes, Kaplan said the dilemmas discussed are supposed to get students to think globally about issues beyond a classroom setting. "Every year, this is an opportunity to step out of high school and into the real world," Kaplan said. "It gives them a new and different perspective and forces them to interact with adults and other students that they might not ordinarily spend a day with."
While he was impressed with the dialogue he heard, he said he didn't spend too much time in the various ballrooms because he wanted the kids to be free to speak their minds without a teacher leaning over their shoulder.
Tracey White, president and CEO of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, is proud of the program and she said that many other school's and chambers of commerce in Virginia spawned off from their initial efforts 12 years ago.
"I am always very impressed with the kids and I am always pleasantly surprised at their wide range of knowledge from business news to world affairs," White said. "Their thought process is way beyond anything you can imagine. It's a testament to Reston."
<b>JERRY VOLLOY</b>, the executive director of Reston Association, was one of 54 individual table leaders during the all-day session at the Sheraton Reston. Volloy traveled to each of the four sessions with the same small group of seniors and, like White, Volloy was amazed at the level of discussion and the passion with which they made their arguments. "I was surprised at how easily and aggressively students were able to put their positions forward and articulate their well-thought out arguments," the first-time table leader said. "I was very impressed. They were all great kids. What passion."
Arguably, no room had more passion than the one entitled, "Cash Video Room." The room was named for David Cash, who gained national attention in 1997, when the then-high school senior, failed to tell authorities about his friend, Jeremy Strohmeyer, who had lured 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson into a bathroom stall in a Primm, Nev., casino where he proceeded to rape and strangle her before leaving her body in the toilet. Cash, who walked in on his friend and Iverson, told no one, and yet, he broke no laws, either. A year later, Cash enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley.
<b>SOUTH LAKES STUDENTS</b> were asked to discuss everything from Cash's culpability in the crime to his ability to pursue an education.
At each stop during the day, students were encouraged to speak their minds, and speak they did, especially when it came to Cash. One student wondered why a father would allow his 7-year-old daughter to wander the halls of casino in the middle of the night. While another student took issue with others who said Cash was simply being a loyal friend. And in an emotional tearful speech, yet another student said she was horrified at Cash's actions and she did not think he deserved a spot in college or the workforce.
"It was a lot of fun and we had some real informative discussions," said Bobby Burns, a South Lakes senior. "It really made you think and besides it beats being in class all day."
While he said he enjoyed the heart-transplant room the most, he was surprised by the discussion, and his reaction, to the room dealing with David Cash and Jeremy Strohmeyer.
"A lot of people said they would have run out of the bathroom and sought help," Burns said. "That is understandable but I was surprised to realize that I would have gone into the stall and tackled my friend if he was doing that sort of thing. There is only so much loyalty you can show a person, you know?"
Burns, who plays on the football and basketball teams at South Lakes, knows a little about loyalty. He said he often is confronted with ethical dilemmas on the playing field and the basketball court. "When it comes to a team, ethics is really important, but it can be tricky, too," Burns said. "If a friend or a teammate are doing something that can adversely affect the whole team than you may need to call him out, but if is only hurting him, then you might just let it go. We do try to look out for each other."