Morals with a modern spin

In response to recent political, corporate and academic scandals, the College and the Committee for Cultural and Intellectual Community (CCIC) invited author Ethan Canin to speak as part of Community Learning Day.

Canin’s collection of short stories, “The Palace Thief,” was read as part of the College’s summer reading program. Its theme, integrity, was used as the backdrop for Community Learning Day.

Nino Scarpati, CCIC chair and dean of the School of Nursing and Health and Exercise Science, said integrity was chosen as the theme because of the “preponderance of ethical failures in the political (and) journalistic (fields), among others.”

“The Palace Thief” follows the story of a boy who lies his way into a position as a U.S. senator and possibly president.

Canin said that he is often asked if the story is about current President George W. Bush or past President Bill Clinton.

“It’s about both,” Canin said. “I hope it’s about all of us.”

Canin encouraged students to develop personal integrity.

Social layering, according to Canin, is what prevents a person from being able to see his true self. He said that the expectations of society are “so stuck on us that it’s hard to find one thing, even one single thing, that we know ourselves.”

Canin used a recent political scandal as an example.

Former Republican congressman Mark Foley has been in the news for allegedly sending explicit e-mails to young pages working in Congress.

“(Foley) is feeling more at ease than he has in years because he’s come clean,” Canin said.

Canin also drew on personal experiences to describe integrity.

Until the publication of his fourth book, Canin had practiced medicine. He graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and went on to Harvard Medical School.

While studying medicine, Canin said he was taught an entirely new language full of vague medical terms.

Since leaving the profession, Canin said he “strive(s) to use real words all the time . not the politically correct words.”

Canin said he values words “that still make pictures in our brains” and that this is the “language of integrity.”

He encouraged college-aged students to accept their personalities rather than trying to change.

“Integrity has something to do with trying to achieve a union between your public self and your private self,” Canin said. He said that change merely “is revealing the truth to yourself and about yourself.”

About 250 students, faculty members and College staff attended the lecture, according to Scarpati.

“The audience responded very well to Canin’s intellectual and humorous reflections about personal and public integrity, and some of his experiences as a medical doctor and writer,” Scarpati said.

German Rozencranc, sophomore political science major, said he enjoyed the lecture but would have preferred if Canin had focused more on his book.

“His viewpoint is centered on integrity and is reinforced by real entities more so than idealistic concepts,” Rozencranc said.

Scarpati estimated that about 40 people lined up after the lecture to have a book signed by Canin.

Later in the day, break-out sessions addressed different aspects of integrity. The sessions included “Writing with Integrity,” “Integrity in Public Policy” and “Medical Ethics in a Time of War.”