Stoic Philosophy Explains Value of Graduation Cords

Cords Represent Achievement Not Worth


Charlotte Monty wrote the following editorial for her Humanities class.

When the air is warming up and June rolls around, high school seniors throw on their graduation gowns and caps, and some have a rainbow of colored cords hanging from their necks. These cords can demonstrate students with high GPAs or members of our school’s honor societies. They symbolize students’ grit and dedication to academics and the arts throughout their high school career, so why is Morgan thinking about getting rid of them? 

On October 28th, Amelia Whelan published a Morgan Pawprint article that discusses the possibility that graduation cords may become a tradition of the past. The idea behind this is that getting rid of cords will prevent students who aren’t part of honors societies from feeling downhearted on graduation day. Graduation is supposed to be a time of elation rather than dejection, but ridding of cords won’t grant everyone the former. Stoic thought would suggest that graduation cords should be a lasting tradition. 

Stoicism is a type of philosophy that arose around 300 BCE and gained popularity thanks to stoics such as Seneca, a statesman, and Epictetus, a former slave that went on to start a school. Stoic thought is built upon beliefs such as understanding that there are uncontrollable forces in your life, being knowledgeable about your goals, self-regulation, and adhering to your virtues. Stoic thought has prevailed for thousands of years because, through thick and thin, it has helped people control their lives and learn how to react when times are tough.

The weaved rope of the cords nor their eye-catching colors isn’t what makes them remarkable; the meaning behind graduation cords makes them significant. Graduation cords are respectable because of the effort students put in to receive them. The famous Stoic: Seneca claims in his piece, Siren Songs, that those who hope you receive good things without working for them “pray for bad things with good intentions”. He believes that work is what causes happiness. Hoping that every student receives the same cords is hoping that they skip the work behind receiving that honor, and hoping that no one is granted a cord takes away the appreciation of effort altogether. I remember when I played youth soccer as a kid, there was always a ceremony at the end of each season, and every year every team of kids received the same medal. I was never joyful when I received that medal; it didn’t mean anything to me because it didn’t reward me for my efforts. The medals praised kids who scored 15 goals as much as kids who scored zero. As a kid who wasn’t the best at soccer, I knew I didn’t do anything worth rewarding, so the medal was pointless. Cords will resonate with those who put in the effort to earn them, so even if kids who didn’t earn them are jealous, the cords wouldn’t resonate with them the same way. 

Graduation cords demonstrate grit and rigor, but they don’t depict worth, and it’s essential not to confuse the two. A great deal of worry about students feeling bad about not receiving cords stems from the fear that they’ll feel less worthy than other students with cords. Worth is not distributed based on criteria as minor as what high school honor societies you were in, and the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, knew this when he described the error in connecting worth to possessions: “I am richer than you are, therefore my property is superior to yours “; or, “I am more eloquent than you are, therefore my elocution is superior to yours.” “But you are neither property nor elocution”. Epictetus believed that your worth isn’t based on material things or how high and mighty one may seem. No student is more worthy than another because they received four cords, and the person beside them acquired none. Academics and school smarts do not define a student, and these cords aren’t meant to either. Cords are simply a distinction based on academic efforts and achievement, they aren’t meant to be a comparison between who is worthy and who is not. Cords are also not a measure of capability, they’re just a measure of what someone has accomplished in high school. Seneca claimed in his writing, Reformation, that everyone is capable of growth and that it’s better to lack success than to lack faith. No one at graduation without a cord is without honor to look back on. As long as there is faith that you can learn and grow, it doesn’t matter what colors lie upon your neck. If anything, the students with cords act as beacons of Morgan’s values. 

Writer Charlotte Monty

Seneca strongly believed in the power of ethical mentorship: the idea that a role model can help people emulate their values. There are always people we can learn from, and learning who those people are can help us mirror them. This idea isn’t only pervasive in Seneca’s writings. Studies such as one from the National Research University Higher School of Economics have found that when students surround themselves with straight-A students, their grades improve as well. Cords are a clear indicator of Morgan’s values, such as hard work and determination, 

and which students demonstrate these values. Cords can show students who to emulate, and who they can hang out with to improve themselves. There is nothing wrong with learning from others, Seneca believes it’s the best way to better yourself, but without graduation cords, students won’t have clear role-model figures. It’s like swimming against a current when trying to figure out how to improve if you don’t know how, but when someone shows you the road to self-betterment, everything becomes a lot easier. 

Let’s keep the color of cords bursting at Morgan because within them are Morgan’s values, an

appreciation of hard work, and the mark of a role model.