Friday, September 30, 2011

An Ode to Oaths

For security reasons, I don’t talk about my real job on Facebook. I don’t even befriend folks from work, unless I have some connection to them other than the workplace (e.g., because we went to school together). Facebook is my retreat from work, to spend time with friends and former students (I don’t allow students to befriend me until after they’ve taken my final exam).

However, this was a significant week for me with my primary occupation—the one that pays the bills. Due to a government reorganization, I no longer work for the same bureau that I have worked for the past 23+ years. Although I am not being forced to move to DC (at least at this point), I now officially work for a different agency that is partially merging with my previous employer.

This week, I went to DC and formally joined the other government organization. As such, I had to take the official oath of office (shown below) as part of my orientation.

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

To me, oaths are something to be taken seriously. As a former Constitutional Law professor, I know that government oaths are a requirement made by our founding fathers. I remember my orientation at NASA Headquarters after getting my J.D./M.P.A., and saying that historic oath for my first time. I enjoyed going through the formality of reciting it again.

Here is a strategic tip I want to share with others. There were five of us getting concurrently sworn into our new positions with this DC organization. Quite a few of our new management officials were present. The five of us were given written versions of the oath to read in unison, with a top-level manager leading us by reading a portion at a time. We stood together, raised our right hands, and took the oath—but one of us stood out.

I’ve always been good at memorizing things, so rather than look down at the paper we were provided that showed the words to the oath, I put it down and simply repeated the words as they were given to us. Thus I stood out as the only one with my head up, proudly stating those historic words. I noticed that the other management officials (including my new boss) in the room were watching me. I had not meant to draw attention to myself, but I think it left a positive impression on them. So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, try putting down the script and simply listen carefully and repeat the words. It’s not that hard to do, and this simple action can make you look good.

A harder but more impressive thing to do is what I did at my wedding in 1987. I had always felt that when I got married, I wasn’t going to merely parrot back the words of the preacher. I decided that I would memorize all my lines in the ceremony. After all, I took getting married seriously (my ex-wife didn’t take her vows as seriously—but that is enough said about that chapter of my life). It showed my commitment to the marriage, and many of those in attendance who greeted us in the receiving line afterwards complimented me on reciting my vows, rather than simply repeating spoon-fed fragments from the preacher. I’m sure I am not the only one who has done this, but I’ve not seen anyone else try it. I think it makes a strong statement at a wedding, and would recommend others consider it. If you aren’t dedicated enough to memorize those words joining the two of you in matrimony, then maybe you aren’t ready to be married.

Finally, there is another oath that meant a lot to me. I still have on the side of my refrigerator a yellowing picture from the Parkersburg newspaper of me taking the oath of office from a circuit court judge in 1992 as an elected official in Wood County. I had hoped that I would have had the chance to take that oath of office more than twice in my life, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I am extremely proud of my eight years of service on the school board, and all the changes we were able to promote. In my humble opinion, subsequent school boards have not been as active as we were.

As it turns out, it was probably advantageous to get out of public education in 2000, with all the challenging problems that may indeed be insurmountable. Plus, it was beneficial to me because I replaced my part-time school board position with my part-time job of teaching American Government and Constitutional Law—and I am very glad that I got the chance to try my hand at teaching, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, since I am writing about reciting, I made a habit of requiring my ConLaw students to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and to do so by standing in front of the class (I also gave extra credit to those who memorized the Gettysburg Address—and a few of them did it!). However, I am afraid that my new job, with what will likely require frequent trips to the DC area, may mean the end of my teaching career. I take my teaching seriously (like taking an oath) and don’t want to commit to a semester of classes if I am not able to ensure that I will be there every week.

Thus, I look forward to the challenges of my new job in a new organization. I didn’t ask to be transferred to a new job, but the reorganization and merger resulted in my move (and in today’s economy, I am just thankful that I have a good job!). So far, everyone in the new organization has treated us well, and I think the future looks bright. I plan on performing strong in my new job, because I took an oath to do so—and I take such things seriously!

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