My Story: What Money and Integrity Mean to Me

By: Alexis M., Clark University

It was a gray Monday morning when my second-grade teacher asked us to gather in a circle around the soft, pastel-colored carpet. I chose a lavender square on the rug next to my best friend, Brooke. My teacher stepped into the circle and walked across the rug toward her short stool in front of the white board. Suddenly, I noticed a tiny, sparkling token tumble from her hand, bounce onto ground, and roll along the rug until it toppled in front of Brooke’s white Velcro sneakers. She picked up the dime and looked at it intently. I leaned over to get a look, too, as if there was some magical significance to it. I was about to suggest that Brooke save it for the vending machine in the cafeteria, but her hand shot up before I could get a word out.

“Miss Moore,” she called. “You dropped this.”

My teacher had settled into her stool and Brooke scrambled to her feet to return it. Miss Moore thanked her, and then looked around the room. “Who here thinks they would do the same as Brooke, and return this dime to me if they had seen me drop it?” she asked.

Of course, we all raised our hands with earnest sincerity. Miss Moore reached back into her pocket as Brooke sat back down with a proud grin. “What if I had dropped this?” She placed a ten-dollar bill in the center of the circle. I gazed at it hungrily, attempting to calculate the number of cookies I could buy in the cafeteria with it.

“I would still give it back,” one of my other classmates piped in. “You’re our teacher. It’s not nice to take your money.”

Miss Moore nodded. “That’s a very good point; it’s not nice. But what if you noticed it on the ground out in the hallway, and you weren’t sure who had dropped it? What if no one else was around to see you pick it up and put it in your pocket?”

My teacher explained to us that this was the idea of integrity – to do the right thing for any person, even if no one was looking and no one would congratulate us.

I will never forget the details of that day – the color of the rug or the sparkle of the dime – but more intensely, I recall the emotions of guilt and confusion of that morning. In a way, it was comforting to be taught that black-and-white concept of “doing the right thing,” but I struggled to find in myself the same innate moral compass that so many others appeared to possess.

However, as I aged, I gained a wider concept of this term, “integrity,” which I first heard in my second-grade classroom. I studied role models in my own life like my mother who worked on unpaid overtime to give students extra help, and my father who always contributed a few dollars and a well-wishing to the men with cardboard signs who stood by stop signs. I began to realize that I had to focus less on my initial inclination to prioritize myself, and more on my resistance to that greed. Perhaps it was natural to want that money for myself, but learning to empathize and, at times, put others’ needs first would give me the tools to change lives.

Now in college, I find that money often centralizes itself in our lives. It’s easy to say, “I’m saving for a cute outfit or an interesting book,” as we pass by fundraisers for natural disasters. It’s easy to choose a plane ticket for a relaxing travel destination over a service volunteer trip. A major with high-income (but unfulfilling) career options is like a shiny dime rolling in front of my feet. It would be so simple to it pick up and make it my own, but I have to remember the other aspects of the situation, and the lesson that my teacher taught us that day. I have to risk following the career path that sparks my genuine passions, and promises a lifetime of contributing to the happiness of others.

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