Cheater confesses – almost 50 years later
GYPSUM – Eagle Valley High School Principal Mark Strakbein was surprised, recently, when a letter addressed to “Prinicpal, Eagle County High School, Gypsum” found its way to his office. For one thing, it’s been at least 40 years since Eagle County High School and the Eagle high school were consolidated into Eagle Valley High School.The one-page letter, neatly written in the kind of script that was common when penmanship was still emphasized in the public schools, came from out of state. The writer, a 64-year-old woman identified herself as a graduate of the class of 1958, and the grandmother of five children. She wanted to tell Strakbein about something that had been troubling her since the fall of 1957, when she was 17.
“I was a good student but English Lit gave me (and I might add, my whole class) problems. We hated it. It was boring. “So, for our test over one of William Shakespeare’s works, my girlfriend and I stole the answers to the test. We gave the answers to everyone in the class, instructing them NOT to make a perfect score. All of us made our own codes to remember the answers, and we all passed.”My girlfriend and I were never caught, and the teacher was never the wiser. (If my parents would have found out at the time, I probably would not be alive to write this.) However, my conscience (the best preacher) has never let me forget. After graduation I went on to go to college, marry, become an RN, reared a family. I’ve had a good life, but my dirty little secret is still remembered, and bothers me.”I know it makes no difference now (after 47 years), except maybe this will keep some student from cheating and help them to be honest – conscience never lets you forget – there is forgiveness with God, and I have that, but I felt I still needed to confess to the school.”
The writer signed her name. Strakbein checked the school records. The writer had indeed been a 1958 graduate of Eagle County high. Like all good educators, Strakbein recognizes a strong message when he sees it. He took the letter to every home room class and read it out loud.”You could have heard a pin drop,” says Strakbein. “We talked about how, if you do something, it’s got to be OK with you, first. If it’s not, it is never OK.”Vail Colorado
The principal reinforced his message by repeating the mantra he frequently shares with his students: Know right from wrong, and do right, do your best and always treat people right.That letter was the kind of real-life lesson that only comes along once in a while, Strakbein says. He is writing back to the woman, to tell her how her confession was used to teach students a lesson, he says.”What a great lesson for those kids to learn,” Strakbein says. “I think we’ll continually use this letter.”