On Thursday of this week, George Hopkins, a man whom I’ve most admired for most of my adult life, was accused sexual assault and harassment by nine women going back to the 1980s. This morning I learned that he has resigned his post as director of The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. One of the women, Megh Toth, was on staff in 2005 when I marched, and I remember her fantastic personality and incredible work ethic. I remember gravitating toward her because of her kindness and smile regardless of the situation.
To see her in the articles and to hear what she went through… it was heart wrenching. Gut wrenching.
The thing that really pounds into my skull about this whole thing is, “How can a man who does this to women speak so eloquently about personal responsibility, character and choosing to do what needs to be done?”
Where was the personal responsibility he espoused when it came to Ms. Riley? Where was the character he encouraged us to have with respect to Ms. Carter? Is it choosing to be great when you ignore a women saying “no” over and over and over? Is that what greatness is?
I understand that men should not be tried in the court of public opinion, that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And yet, all that good character and leadership and wisdom he instilled in the people around him proved his undoing in my mind, because here’s the thing… I believe Megh. She practices what he preached. In my mind, her testimony is above reproach.
As a Christian, I should also point out that many show concepts recently performed by The Cadets have served as commentaries on my faith, sometimes in oblique ways, sometimes right on the nose. Though I’m not Catholic (which is a whole different topic of discussion) the Bernstein Mass show from 2017 was poignant at times, portraying Jesus’ sacrifice for us. The 2012 show was entirely comprised of Christmas music and had Christian iconography like a cross, a fish and a star symbolizing (in my mind) the Resurrection. And in 2011, a show depicting a war between Angels and Demons where the Demons are defeated and the Angels acknowledge God in the last moments. Looking back, it all makes me wonder if he was working out his guilt through the show designs.
My Week Outside the Tragedy
Now, this is not a hit piece on George Hopkins. Other amazing things happened in my life this week. One of my former students became a Marching Royal Dukes Drum Major at my alma mater, James Madison University! She’s worked so hard and for so long… and she accomplished her goal! Since she was in 8th grade, she wanted to be exactly where she is now. She is inspiring to me.
And my high school marching band kids yesterday performed for the rising freshmen at their orientation, and they did a fantastic job! During our rehearsal beforehand, I realized that we haven’t been together since December, and also how badly I missed their energy and laughter and work ethic. They performed, they danced, they laughed, they got up in the stands with those 8th graders and did the cheers with them… They have pride in what they do.
And my indoor drumline students made huge strides this week amid some changes as they prepare to compete next week at Championships. They work hard, they practice, they roll with the punches and they persevere. They may not win next week, even though it’s nice to win; yet I am proud to say that that’s not why they do this thing called music.
And my daughter, cute as a button, said a full sentence! And my other daughter, beautiful and huge-hearted, picks dandelions for my wife and tells jokes that make no sense and pontificates on the most hilarious things like the peculiarities of sarcasm and why the news guy keeps talking about an important Russian guy named Vladimir “Poopin’”. These girls bring me joy!
And my wife, steadfast and loyal as ever, was recognized at a special dinner for 10 years of service at her job this week. And she took me! As annoying and difficult to live with as I am, she still loves me and enjoys my company enough to want to spend time with me. I love her!
The Point of All This
As I witness the devastation that Mr. Hopkins has wrought not just to these women but to the organization he helped build for 40 years, an organization I was part of and love very much, I am personally left to deal with his hypocrisy.
What do I do with all the great things he said and the wisdom he imparted? Is the mindset of deciding to be the best you can possibly be and then acting upon that decision somehow tainted by his actions, his sins?
What will I do about George Hopkins in my life?
Having wisdom is the ability to discern what is true, right or good. You can gain wisdom from anything, be it through personal experience or, hopefully, listening to someone who passes it on. Sometimes, you can even learn wisdom from someone who has failings in their lives and flaws in their character.
I’ve tested the things this man said over the years. I’ve seen amazing things come from the legacy of his words: the value of perseverance (my former students); the wisdom of competing against one’s own self rather than others (my indoor drumline); the virtue of being more concerned with artistic integrity rather than competitive success (my marching band); the importance of priorities in my life (my family).
Just like Richard Wagner’s incredible music separated from his anti-Semitism, I will separate the wisdom of Mr. Hopkin’s mouth from the actions of his flesh.
Also, I will forgive him and I will pray for him; the judgment of his soul is a task for our Maker, not me.
He who walks with integrity walks securely,
But he who perverts his ways will become known.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun what is evil.