For me, integrity has always been a concept that is easier to describe than to define. As I have thought about how to teach integrity, the idea of sharing images and stories of integrity in action has seemed to be the most profound way to talk about the concept.

One of the images that comes to my mind as I think about integrity is an image of my grandfather, a cattle rancher. A few years ago he and I went to a cattle auction together near his ranch in western Colorado. Over lunch we sat down with a man who had sold a few heifers to my grandfather the previous year. When my grandfather purchased those heifers, he did so with the understanding that they had all been artificially inseminated to give birth to Black Angus calves, births that were supposed to take place on – or at least around – the same day.That day at the auction, my grandfather told the gentleman that the heifers actually had given birth over a two month period and that the calves were not all Black Angus either; a Hereford calf and a Charolais calf were also born to those heifers that year. The gentleman nodded and smiled, and said something to the effect of, “well, I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.”

To that, my grandfather nodded and responded, “I guess you’re right. That’s how it goes.”

As I look back on that memory, I am struck by my grandfather’s incredible integrity in that moment. What he had thought he had purchased was not what he actually received, but it was close enough. The calves were still healthy. He could adapt and move ahead.

Though I struggle to put integrity into words, Teton Science Schools’ Graduate Program’s definition of integrity includes several qualities and actions highlighted in my grandfather’s story: be honest, be kind, and discover your own values and live accordingly.

So how, then, do you teach integrity? How do you coach young leaders towards practicing integrity? One way the Graduate Program facilitates growth towards greater integrity is through the giraffe award – an award that goes to someone who “sticks her or his neck out.” Faculty also model integrity in their daily interactions with graduate students, visiting school groups, and each other. And perhaps most importantly, we discuss integrity – we share stories, like my grandfather’s, so that we can all learn. Keep an eye out for individuals who are practicing integrity – on the trail, in the classroom, even at a cattle auction – and see what you can learn from those examples.

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