January 31, 2013

While Ashley Turner ’03 was “brooding over” what she would say to the members of Culver Girls Academy, their parents, and others in attendance at the annual Crest Ceremony, she thought about the hidden meaning behind Culver’s rules and traditions.

MotherTeresaFrom the perspective of nearly 10 years after graduating, getting a nursing degree from Georgetown University, a masters degree as a family nurse practitioner from New York University, and years of working as an emergency room nurse in Boston, Turner found points where Culver has directly impacted her decisions.

How the uniform is worn, with the nametage on the left, the top button being buttoned, and not rolling the kilt may seem frivolous, she said, but they become second nature to a CGA student. But the lesson isn’t about properly placing a nametag. It is about paying attention to detail.

“As a nurse, attention to detail is a large part of my daily life,” she said. “In the ER we are often asked to make split-second decisions and calculations. The misplacement of a decimal point can be the difference between life and death for a patient.

“So I encourage you to button your top button and place your nametage properly on the left side of your shirt, not because it matters but because every day you are practicing for the rest of your life.”

Another point is Culver students showing up 10 minutes early for everything.

“Imagine my surprise when I went to college to find others don’t believe that showing up on time actually means you are late.”

Turner said the importance of showing up on time and giving it your best at Culver by Maj. Tom Duckett’s swimming team. Maj. Duckett had two rules, she added, “You must show up every day and you must try. If you were late once you were off the team.”

While it sounds strict, the rules “were music to my ears,” Turner said. It didn’t matter how well one was able to swim, all you had to do was show up on time and try. Which were two rules someone athletically challenged like her could live with, she said. And Culver was a great place to reach outside her comfort zone.

I hated running so I decided I would run a half-marathon with teachers at Culver to get over my hatred.

“I hated running so I decided I would run a half-marathon with teachers at Culver to get over my hatred. I didn’t like speaking in public so I joined the speech team. I wasn’t a good swimmer so I set my mind to swim across the lake. I challenged myself and learned the importance of always trying.”

And in regard to being on time, she added, “remember that you make an impression and demonstrate your respect for others before you even walk through the door.”

Turner’s third point concerned the Culver Honor Code. The realization is that the world doesn’t operate by the honor code, she said, and there is no honor council, DC, or “all OK box” to check at the end of life’s tests. It is up to each individual to check that box “for yourself.”

She has found the “discourage others from such actions” the most difficult to follow. But discouragement comes in many forms, from a simple “no thank you” to walking away from a situation in which you feel uncomfortable to even sarcastically saying “I discourage you from such actions.”

Senior Katie Mikles assists junior Haillie Benn with her blazer during the Crest Ceremony (Grant Munroe/CGM Photography)

Ithaka senior Katie Mikles assists junior Haillie Benn with her blazer during the Crest Ceremony. (Grant Munroe/CGM Photography)

There are many opportunities in life to break the honor code, she said, like cheating on tests in college, lying on your resume, or stealing from others. Some people you admire or call your friends may make the decision “to lie, cheat, and steal. But you must remember that it is just that . . . a decision . . . and the choice is always yours.”

Another lesson Turner has taken away from Culver is “celebrate. One thing Culver does extremely well is celebrate,” she said. “This very evening is a celebration of leadership and marks the induction of the next generation of CGA girls into the leadership system.”

Culver teaches students the importance of celebrations through events like the opening convocation, dorm parties, Dean England Day, spirit games, the senior dinner dance, and Culver Women’s Celebration.

In a subtle way, Culver is teaching students that life “should be celebrated and cherished,” she said, adding that she still decorates her door for the holidays as though “I am vying to win the Tower door decorating contest.”

And she still secretly wishes that her husband would get her balloons from the bookstore and post signs with embarrassing pictures saying “happy birthday” all around the apartment. “Maybe this year will be the year,” she added.

Life, and being a leader, is not always easy, Turner said, referring to a quote from Mother Teresa she opened her speech with. “There will be people who doubt you, challenge you, and discourage you . . . however, Culver provides you with the tools not only to be great leaders, but to be great people.

“Remember: Be kind. Be honest. Give it your best. And, most importantly, go into the world and do good.”

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