Alison May

Alison May Headshot

Alison hails from a small town in Maryland but has lived on the North Shore since 1997 when she began her doctoral program at Northwestern. She completed her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences & Disorders in 2002 atwhich time her now-husband (who's a Chicago native) proposed. Since Chicagoans never leave, Alison has adopted the North Shore as her home, and was happy to return to Northwestern in a professional capacity in 2007 when she entered her current position, Assistant Director for the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. Alison enjoys time with family and friends, exercise, reading, and her two cats.

'Truthful'

It's no coincidence that my name means "truthful." All the times that I've been most at peace in my life have coincided with honestly living out my values; on the other hand, all my lowest times have been brought about by some insidious lie.

I'll never forget the lesson I learned about honesty in Mrs.Davis' third-grade math class. We had begun taking timed multiplication quizzes. When we were done, we called out for a time that we wrote on top of our tests. Our times were then posted on a wall chart. I was stunned when on the first test, I completed my test and called out for a time first, tying with the smartest and most popular girl in my grade. I, on the other hand, was chubby, asthmatic, struggling with learning disabilities...certainly NOT popular. I was also not used to being good, much less the best, at anything. I therefore observed in resignation when on the next few tests we took, my popular peer began to finish increasingly ahead of me.

One day it occurred to me that I could call out for a time before I was finished. The tables had turned, and I became THE best, not even tied for #1! Mrs. Davis even proudly pointed out my accomplishment to Principal Conway when he came to visit our class. However, one day, shortly before the holiday break, Mrs. Davis saw me working on my test after I had called out for a time. She walked over to my desk and so briskly turned over my paper that everyone noticed. I was embarrassed, but mostly I was confused. How was it fair that one of my peers would be the best at everything while I was the best at nothing, and therefore how could what I had been doing be dishonest? After class, I muttered some lame excuse about my cat being sick, but the real sickness was a horrid realization growing inside me of what I had done. Weighing the gravity of all those bogus achievements up on Mrs. Davis' chart, I realized I had been dishonest not once, but many times, with the most recent one being my implication to her that I had cheated only once.

I recall sitting on my mom's lap next to the Christmas tree and telling her I was unworthy to receive any gifts while I gazed blankly through the colored lights on the tree. I knew I needed to tell Mrs. Davis that I had lied to her on other occasions and although I don't remember how the plan to talk with her came to fruition, I remember that my mom was standing in the doorway of the classroom as I approached Mrs. Davis after school. I told her what I had done, not once, but many times, including the best-in-class time. Mrs. Davis, whose harsh features had intimidated me since first sight, knelt down, hugged me, and began to cry as she said, "Thank you, Alison. Thank you." We never said another word about my dishonesty, she never took down any of my times on the chart, and I have NEVER again cheated on any academic task even through earning a doctorate.

The power of that memory is with me still; in fact, I find myself choked up as I type this even though I've told this story before. Moreover, honesty in not just myself but others is so important that I find myself almost unhinged when I catch Northwestern students cheating and find it demoralizing that most colleges feel an honor system isn't viable. I ache for our society to move in the direction of James Halperin's 1996 book, The Truth Machine, a speculative, futuristic novel in which all people are ultimately connected 100% of the time to infallible lie detectors. The possibilities for trust, world peace, and so many other ideals are suddenly within reach. Sadly, the early key events in his book that moved the world in the direction of absolute honesty did not unfold in the years since its publication, which dashes my hopes that the world as a whole will put honesty on the pedestal that I do. I nevertheless continue to believe honesty is of paramount value, and I recognize that what I can do is continue to strive for it in myself and in all my relationships. This includes trying to react to students I catch cheating in the loving way Mrs. Davis responded to me. The peace I can spread in this way, although small, is a commitment I can guarantee.