Saturday, June 8, 2024

Sports and Spirituality Icebreaker: Thank you, Polar Bears

It's graduation season. A moment for our schools and families to pause and participate in a time-honored tradition known as commencement. I love the components that characterize this rite of passage: the pomp and circumstance, academic regalia, baccalaureate mass, the valedictory address and more. Schools give extraordinary awards, extend diplomas and invite leaders, celebrities, authors, athletes, and alumni to impart inspiring messages, words of wisdom and even a call to action to a graduating class. 

Do you remember the person who spoke at your commencement ceremony? And if you remember them, what was their speech about? Did they quote Plato or Socrates? Jesus or a Jesuit named Greg Boyle? Perhaps they referenced a work of art or architecture. Did they share the story of a winning team or the lessons learned from defeat? Or, did they offer lessons from a polar bear. Probably not—which is the purpose of this. No motor board and robe required. 

I found this message on a graduation card, and figured "Advice from a Polar Bear" might serve a nation divided quite well. Though this Arctic animal is not expected to offer the address, we can learn from it just the same. Maybe this is an appropriate message for the kindergarten or eighth grade graduations. But wisdom never shows its age. It's is acquired by time, reflection and living life and meant to be accessible for all. Here's the message from our fury friend:

  • Live Large
  • Be thick-skinned
  • Sniff out opportunities
  • Learn some good icebreakers
  • Be fearless
  • Keep it cool!

In my capacity as a leader in the Office of Adult Spirituality, I have come to see a lot of people dread or fear icebreakers. And yet, we still lead gatherings with them. Why?! I think they are important for tone setting and getting the attention and focus of the community. The polar bear is right. I think leaders—school administrators, teachers, board chairs can benefit from good icebreakers. I suggest collecting them as you go. Hold on to those that energize you and let go of those that do not. 

I created Sports and Spirituality Bingo with the intention that participants would get up and out of their seats to ask questions and get answers from their colleagues/peers. One can fill all squares or a line of five in a row—vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. I offered a general Bingo for the faculty of St. Ignatius College Prep to commence our retreat. Truth be told, the room was buzzing and I got some great recommendations for future reading.

I doubt that a college or university is going to offer an icebreaker at their commencement exercises. And in today's world, we know that colleges and universities must be careful—deliberate and discerning—about the one who is to offer a commencement speech. He or she is given a high profile platform and it's public.This person ought to espouse the values and guiding principles of the institution. Time and again we have seen this go right and seen it go wrong. You may live by the understanding that even bad press is good press. I have wondered Benedictine College's stance on this axiom. Their 2024 speaker, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker spoke as someone who claims to be "authentically and unapologetically Catholic." His message has garnered a wide-spectrum of responses.  I invite you to watch for yourself. (NB: I watched about the first 12 minutes. That was sufficient for me.).

I make a point of watching the University of Notre Dame's commencement address every year. I still remember a few ideas that Dr. Mary Ann Glendon offered to the Class of 1996. However, the speech and stories from the Laetare medal winner, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ are seared in my memory. Though she was honored for her work with individuals on death row, we left feeling as though we were the honorees—honored by her presence, her prayers, her humor and example. Thank you, Sister Helen!

Odds are your speaker won't give lessons learned from a polar bear....but this message is worth considering. Maybe that's your next icebreaker: Which one of these points do you find most important? challenging? appropriate for you?!

Congratulations to the Class of 2024—live large! 

If you want the Sports and Spirituality Bingo file, please send me a note and I'll share the document.

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