Many years ago, during my shaky first year as dean of students at a co-ed boarding school, during a Saturday night check in (a boarding school ritual that then required the adults on duty to do a “face to face” with each of the students in their dormitory), I smelled alcohol on Chris’ breath. Because the grade 12 boy immediately denied the charge, I had to find another adult to get a second opinion.
It was after midnight, so it took me a while to track down a teacher on duty. (This was in the pre-beeper, let alone pre-cell phone age!) By the time I found a colleague and returned to the dorm, the situation had changed. Chris’ room now reeked of peanut butter. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Chris had consumed a whole jar of “Jiff” while I was away, looking for a colleague.
Chris again denied the charge, and because all we could smell at this point was peanuts, there wasn’t much anyone could do. I was disappointed that Chris hadn’t told me the truth, but chalked the experience up as yet another rookie mistake. In hindsight, I realized that I should have brought Chris with me, when I went to look for a teacher. Later that same year I would also learn that, before conducting a room search (a dreadful experience for everyone involved, by the way) it’s better to ask, “Is there anything in this room that shouldn’t be here?” rather than, “Do you have pot in your room?”
Six months later, just after his graduation ceremony, Chris approached me with a number of his dormitory classmates in tow. They were all smiling. “I want to thank you. I knew that you knew that I had been drinking that Saturday night last winter, but you let me off. I want you to know I appreciate that, and I also want you to know that I told all the other guys in the dorm that you’re cool.”