Curve balls and character…


As part of the Leaving Class celebrations, Old Boy Drew Taylor ’01 spoke to all the boys in our annual Spirit of Athletics Assembly. Drew recounted stories of his time at UCC, and shared three lessons he learned during his time here that have helped shaped him and contributed to his success in life:

1) Failure is a part of life, so we need to roll with the punches. Drew spoke of setbacks he endured through life, lightly reminiscing about being cut from the UCC baseball team in Grade 9 and, with a more serious tone, spoke of the injury to his pitching arm that ultimately prevented him from achieving his dream of playing in the big leagues.

2) Set goals and commit to sticking to them. Drew acknowledged the challenge of balancing academics with co-curricular passions, but encouraged the boys to stay strong and remain focused on their aspirations in both realms. As a man who successfully pursued a doctorial degree while playing professional baseball, he speaks from experience.

3) Choose to be an “impact player” in all that you do. Drew recounted experiencing a very difficult time when he first arrived at the college in Grade 7. As a tall, lanky adolescent, he experienced some teasing from other boys in the grade. Questioning whether or not UCC was the right fit for him, he spoke fondly of a teacher reassuring him that our school needed boys like him. That teacher had a great impact on him and influenced his decision to stay, but Drew conveyed that the impact would have been so much greater if that message had come from his peers. With that in mind, he challenged the boys to consider their impact on other students in the school and encouraged them to look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Our IB2 boys may have graduated, but the lessons they heard on Tuesday morning are perhaps more important than anything they learned in class.

I’d encourage you to speak with your son, regardless of what grade he’s in, about the message he heard on Tuesday morning and the character strengths of resiliency, grit and courage.

Thanks for reading,

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Understanding the teenage brain…

We had our annual MADD assembly on Monday. As usual, it was a very powerful experience for all in attendance. I often wonder if the impact of this special media presentation loses some impact on our students, since most of them live in, or near Toronto, where Uber, taxis and public transit are all readily accessible. Yet, I was reminded by a colleague that many of our boys will likely head off to more rural settings for university. He also pointed out that many will spend time at cottages, or may work at summer camps in Northern Ontario and will, in all likelihood, have to travel to and from small towns by car.

The reality of a scenario like this hit me when I recalled the tragic story of a very young Old Boy who, along with two of his passengers, was killed in a car accident nine years ago after having lunch and drinks at a restaurant in the Muskoka area. Shortly after his death, the boy’s father campaigned for zero-tolerance laws for younger drivers, in an effort to save others from having to endure the devastation suffered by his own family.

I do believe we are gaining ground with today’s youth having better judgment with respect to impaired driving, but as a parent, I admit to still getting frustrated with some of the seemingly inane decisions made by my two teenage kids. A number of years ago, National Geographic magazine featured a very interesting article titled “Beautiful Brains.” In it, author David Dobbs explains the science behind some of the often puzzling and nonsensical behaviour exhibited by young people, specifically those in their teenage years.

Through looking at the natural stages of growth of the human brain, Dobbs explains how the often annoying and sometimes frightening decisions of our teenaged children is a manifestation of where they’re at developmentally, and ultimately is a necessary step in their maturation toward adulthood. Dobbs’ story highlights many fascinating aspects of teenage behaviour that he links to neurological development, but what was of most interest to me were the three characteristics he identified that could, in some way, provide an explanation for the risky decisions so often made by many young people:

  • a yearning for some type of sensation stimulation
  • a keen understanding of the relationship between risk and reward, but prioritizing reward over risk
  • a dependency on social acceptance

The traditional explanation for teenage misconduct is usually linked to the notion that their brains aren’t fully developed and, as a result, they act impulsively without giving thought to the potential consequences of their actions. While impulsivity might be strongly associated with the need for stimulation, if I’m reading Dobbs correctly, he argues that there are other significant factors, like the three mentioned above, that are involved in the decisions teenagers make. According to studies cited in the article, recent research “casts the teen as less of a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptive creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” (National Geographic, October 2011)

As parents, I think we all assume that our children will never travel in a vehicle with an impaired driver behind the wheel. Yet we all know that our kids are going to take some risks as they navigate their teen years. It’s only natural that they do. In preparation for these moments, I’d suggest the following:

1) Be proactive: Have conversations about the types of situations in which risk-taking might be a factor. Better yet, speak about related experiences with which you struggled when you were their age.

2) Resist the desire to dismiss poor decisions as impulsive or immature. Try to understand how your child came to the decision he did, knowing that risky decisions are often a product of complex reasoning.

3) In a caring way, support any consequences that may occur from risk-taking. Recognizing that the results of poor decisions can be painful, but will likely have an impact on future decisions your son will make, and will hopefully lead to better judgment.

Monday’s assembly certainly warrants a follow-up conversation with your son. Have a safe, enjoyable long weekend.

Thanks for reading,

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Courage + Resilience = Triumph

If your household is anything like mine, family members may be walking around with long faces in wake of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ end of season.

I’ve had many conversations with disheartened Senior Division boys this week who were hoping to follow the “Blue and White” through to capturing Lord Stanley’s cup. Indeed, it was a great run for the Buds, and now Torontonians can turn their full attention to the Raptors, who are well-positioned to advance to the next series in the NBA playoffs.

Although it was a bit of a letdown, clearly the disappointment associated with the Leafs’ loss this past week is something even the most die-hard fan can deal with. After all, we have years of experience dealing with this type of setback. However, in coping with disappointment on a larger scale, when we experience hardship or failure, or when life plans don’t work out exactly as hoped for, bouncing back is not easily addressed through trite statements like “we’ll get ‘em next year.”

Right now, I’m aware that many of our IB2 students may be struggling with disappointment around the university acceptance process. This is often augmented by the fact that boys will typically only speak jubilantly of their acceptances, and don’t share news about being denied entry to schools of choice.

There was a very relevant article in The Globe and Mail yesterday on the topic of resilience. In it, author and entrepreneur Anne Grady speaks about a formula she uses to help manage her personal challenges, and the daily trials we all must endure throughout life:

“In my attempt to find solutions and coping strategies to help me raise my son, who suffers from a severe mental illness, and in dealing with a lot of setbacks along the way, I’ve discovered a formula for overcoming life’s inevitable hard knocks: Courage plus resilience equals triumph. This applies not just to big tragedies, but also the everyday stuff we all deal with that weighs us down.”

(Globe and Mail, April 26, 2017)

Grady concludes her piece with three practical tips for developing resilience:

  1. Choose your expectations wisely: Our feelings of frustration or disappointment most often occur when our expectations and reality aren’t aligned.
  2. Make yourself a priority: Taking care of ourselves and making healthier lifestyle choices impacts us in a positive way and increases our capacity to deal with challenge and change.
  3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable: In pushing ourselves toward new experiences, we’ll be more open to failure, learning and growth.

There will be many times throughout the course of your son’s life where he’ll fall short of his goals and plans won’t go as intended. He’ll no doubt experience some of those setbacks here at UCC. While we all want our children to be successful and shield them from disappointment, as parents we need to show our kids how to appropriately deal with times of frustration and disappointment when we don’t achieve a desired outcome. In so doing, we’ll help them cultivate their skills of resiliency, bolster their mental health and ultimately further develop the strengths of character they’ll need to overcome challenges they may face and achieve fulfillment in their lives.

Thanks for reading,


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On goodbyes, gratitude and brotherhood…

I trust you all had a restful, enjoyable long weekend. Our week back at school started with one of a series of annual celebrations for the IB2 boys: the final Leaving Class assembly. Although rambunctious, the boys settled in well to hear one last message from their head steward, who spoke on the themes of gratitude and brotherhood. Ultimately, according to him, UCC, and more importantly the people in its community provided him with much comfort and support during times when he needed it most. In a very genuine, heart-felt manner, he shared that the memories and sentiments of gratitude he holds of his time here will be with him forever. His inspirational message was greatly appreciated by all those in the audience, who expressed their thanks with a standing ovation.

As our IB2 boys look ahead toward their transition from UCC, I’d like to offer a few thoughts to the Leaving Class boys and their parents, although much of what follows is relevant for all of the Senior Division community.

I’d like to convey my sincere thanks to the boys in the Leaving Class for their years of dedication here. Some arrived here two years ago ready to take on the rigour of the rewarding IB Program. For others, their time here has spanned a number of years solely at the Upper School, and may have included a life of living on campus as part of our great residential life program. Still others may have come from the Prep and remarkably have spent more than two-thirds of their lives here. Regardless of the amount of time your sons have been here, I’ve no doubt that many are experiencing mixed emotions as they are seeing their final year come to a close. Trying to maintain their academic focus in preparation for their upcoming exams, dealing with feelings of celebration at having almost finished high school, struggling with anxiety about plans for next year, on top of trying to navigate the process of leaving many of their close friends, are all significant issues facing many of your sons at this very moment.

In the midst of this turbulence I offer a few suggestions. First, continue to provide the guidance your son needs to make prudent decisions. Encourage him to finish his time here at UCC in strong fashion by helping him to stay focused on the importance of the final month of school.

Secondly, I would recommend that you continue to provide your son with the emotional support he needs. Although he may not show it, in this time of significant transition, he’s likely feeling unsure of himself and his future. He needs to have a steady presence and be reassured as to how much he is loved.

Finally, help him to maintain perspective on what is most important about his experience here. Throughout my 17 years at the College, in the countless conversations I’ve had with Old Boys, not one has ever mentioned his IB point total, nor reminisced about acing or failing an exam. Instead, they inevitably speak about the friendships they’ve maintained that started here, and the many ways through which their time spent here ultimately helped in the formation of their character.

Keeping with tradition, the Leaving Class boys concluded their final assembly on Tuesday with a rousing rendition of a song that has become somewhat of an anthem for the guys over the past few years. Indeed, this song delivers a powerful promise to our boys, both those who are currently here, and to Old Boys across the globe: regardless of where you end up in life, as part of the UCC brotherhood, you need “Never Walk Alone.”

Thanks for reading,

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Celebrating the arts, and the works in progress…

I’d like to thank everyone who was involved with last night’s Nuit Bleue event. Our annual celebration of the arts was a great success, as student work across the broad spectrum of the arts was showcased in various venues around the school. Indeed, in wandering around and observing the incredible talents of the actors, musicians, visual artists, writers, and others, I was so impressed by the talent of the boys. Yet, through my 18 years at the College, whether attending performances, games, tournaments or contests, I’ve come to realize that innate talent is only one part of the recipe for excellence; the most important ingredient is hard work. Last night, in expressing my gratitude to the teachers who work with our broad range of artists, I was struck by how many of them spoke of the long hours and countless revisions that went into all of the pieces, productions and performances on display last night – arduous work that went on behind the scenes, unknown, and underappreciated by audiences who were wowed by final versions of the boys’ creativity.

All that artistic energy got me thinking about the UCC experience. In some ways, I liken the College to a type of canvas, scratchpad, scipt or score sheet that allows boys to explore who they are, make mistakes, and improve upon versions of themselves along the way toward becoming the best they can be. And, like the teachers who helped guide our artists toward producing some of their remarkable creations displayed last night, all members of our community play a role in supporting young men in the formation of their character along their respective journeys of self-discovery.

I suppose all of us – adults and children alike – are artists to a degree, shaping and re-shaping ourselves in a constant effort to improve so that we can present our best self to others. As parents, it is essential for us to understand that unlike the polished and completed works produced for events like Nuit Bleue, our kids are works in progress, and throughout their lives, we must accept that they aren’t perfect and appreciate the beauty that exists at each stage of this very special creative process.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
– Salvador Dali

Wishing you a restful, enjoyable long weekend.

Thanks for reading,

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“To err is human…”

I spoke at assembly this past Monday about making mistakes, and about steps we can take to try to avoid them. My address to the boys appears below. Perhaps it will provide a springboard to further conversation in your household. You’ll note I conclude with some thoughts about the Battalion Ball. If your son is attending this event, I’d encourage you to talk to him about making good decisions so that the event is safe, fun and memorable for all the right reasons.

Thanks for reading,

“Good morning… I trust you all had a restful enjoyable break.

This two-week holiday always seems to arrive at the perfect time, signifying that we’ve managed to make it through another winter, with thoughts of the warm days of spring ahead. The anticipation of better weather is not the only thing I look forward to at this time of year.

For armchair athletes like me, March brings with it, one of the most exciting sporting events of the year. With the NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament reaching its climax, fans of college hoops like me eagerly anticipate the remaining games and the chance to watch some remarkable athletes in action, ones who don’t play for money but for pride in their school and passion for a sport they love.

To some degree, the world of athletics, especially at the collegiate level, provides a stage through which onlookers can observe important character moments as we watch players and coaches react to adversity and challenge. One such moment occurred in the opening round of the tournament this year during the Vanderbilt/Northwestern game.

Northwestern has never won a tournament game and with 15 seconds remaining in its match-up against Vandy, it appeared as though that streak would continue. I’ll ask the AV guys to run the clip to show you what happened.

You can predict what happened in the final 14 seconds of the game. Northwestern went on to score both free-throws and then held on to record their first tournament victory in the school’s history. Not surprisingly, there has been much post-game discussion about what happened. One reporter described the unfortunate error as one of the worst mistakes in NCAA tournament history, claiming that “Fisher-Davis had committed the biggest basketball sin of all, something drilled into players every day of their lives. He didn’t know the time and score.” (USA Today, March 16, 2017)

Understandably, Fisher-Davis was devastated by the impact of his error. In his words: “I saw him [referring to his coach] point at (McIntosh), but he was just telling me to pick him up (and guard him)… And then I committed a dumb foul. You gotta be smarter than that in that situation… Obviously it’s hard to take. I especially feel bad for our seniors, going out like that, off a play like that.” (The Tennessean, March 16, 2017)

When asked about Fisher-Davis’ game losing error, Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew, who throughout the season had an “at times” rocky relationship with the young Junior, chose to focus on the positive aspects of the situation:

“He made a mistake at the end, yeah, I mean I’m not sure what happened. He’s the type of person that he feels some blame for it. The second half, we had no chance if he didn’t make some of the shots that he did. I just wanted to let him know that, we’re with him no matter what… I’m going to make mistakes and everybody is going to be around me and supporting me and vice versa. That was just how it was.” (Business Insider, March 17, 2017)

Vanderbilt players also conveyed their support for their teammate, acknowledging his great play throughout the rest of the game that ultimately led to them even being close with a tough Northwestern team.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic. After all, we are talking about a basketball game, but I think there are number of valuable life lessons to be learned from the split-second error that cost Vanderbilt an opening round victory.

First, Fisher-Davis admitted he had lost track of the time and score, and that he also misunderstood what his coach was telling him to do. We will all be faced with pressure situations in our lives and during those times, we need to be fully aware of all that is going on around us and we need to communicate with others clearly so that we can make decisions based on understanding and sound judgment.

Second, we will all make mistakes. I make many of them, if you don’t believe me, you can ask my wife and kids who do a very good job of reminding me when I mess up. Fisher-Davis blew it and he didn’t try to shift blame or explain it away. He immediately admitted his error and the impact it had on others. In particular, those most greatly affected, the graduating players with whom Fisher-Davis played, many of whom would never play in a basketball game as important as that one for the rest of their lives. When we do make mistakes, we need to man-up, accept responsibility for them, and do what we can to best manage their wide-reaching impact.

Finally, when the mistakes of others affect our lives, we need to be understanding and forgiving. There is no doubt that Fisher-Davis’ coach and fellow players were feeling extreme disappointment, frustration and anger, yet all of them supported their dejected teammate to the fullest, understanding the situation for what it was, knowing that showing their aggravation and being critical would in no way change the outcome of the game. Learning from our own mistakes, and the mistakes of others is important for growth, but the learning process will only hampered by cynicism, negativity and dwelling on the mistake. There will be times in your lives when you will be adversely impacted by the decisions and mistakes made by members of your family, your friends and other people with whom you associate. How you react during these times will be the best reflection of your character – being positive, supportive and taking steps to move forward always makes the situation better.

I’ll ask the AV guys to play today’s final clip. Some of you may remember seeing this commercial before. I believe Dr. Power showed it a few years ago. I feel its message complements the thoughts I wanted to share with you this morning. Play the clip.

It would be nice to have some sort of a warning system – like a honking horn – to correct us when we’re headed toward making a poor decision, but despite all of the technology out there, there isn’t a device or anything I know of that will prevent us from making stupid mistakes.

Yet, there are some tips that can help us make better decisions, especially in those pressure filled situations:

One: Remember the learning from previous mistakes – your own ones and the mistakes of others.

Two: Trust your instincts. If you feel somewhat hesitant about a decision you are going to make, chances are it’s one you may end up regretting.

Three: Have some forethought. Most teenage boys (and some 50-year-old men like me) aren’t necessarily known for projecting too far ahead, or for thinking about the consequences of the choices they make. Considering the potential impact of our actions before we take them often contributes to making better decisions.

This Friday is the Battalion Ball, and like any other year, many senior boys will be attending this annual memorable event. I urge you to carefully consider your decisions in preparation for the evening so that it’s memorable for all the right reasons. Carefully consider your own decisions and be good teammates – supporting others in making their own good decisions and collectively trying to minimize mistakes that might be made.

Be safe and have fun.

Thanks for listening.”


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Anger, pain and the power of forgiveness…

To conclude our recognition of Black History Month, Old Boy Jared Walker ’05 spoke to the boys during Monday morning’s assembly. Walker spoke about the racism he experienced in his own life and shared a poignant story about how he was questioned by two policemen while on his way to school here a dozen years ago. The officers apparently struggled to believe he attended UCC. Walker remarked how pleased he was to see evidence of greater diversity at the College today. He also spoke about the horrible historical case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally murdered in 1955 after allegedly accosting Carolyn Bryant in a store owned by her and husband. Till’s case made headlines back then for a number of reasons, one of which was that his mother insisted on having an open casket so all could see what his killers, who were never convicted, had done to him. Till’s case is making headlines today because the 82-year-old Bryant (now known as Ms. Donham) has recently recanted much of the details she presented as fact back then, details that ultimately caused the senseless killing of a 14-year-old boy.

In reflecting on Walker’s address, I came across an article from the New York Times about Till’s death and Bryant’s recent confession. Amidst the anger, pain, suffering and profound sadness evoked by the article, comments from one of Till’s relatives stood out for me. In speaking of the tragedy, Till’s cousin Wheeler Parker, 77, said “… the word of a white person against a black person was law, and a lot of black people lost their lives because of it. It really speaks to history, it shows what black people went through in those days.” The article concludes with a further reference to Parker who remarkably says he harbours no ill will toward Ms. Donham, and hopes her admission brings her peace. “I can’t hate,” says Parker. “Hate destroys the hater too. That’s a heavy burden to carry.” (“Woman Linked to 1955 Emmett Till Murder Tells Historian Her Claims Were False”, New York Times, January 27, 2017)

I’m not certain I could hold the same perspective toward those responsible if a member of my family suffered like Till did, but Parker’s message of forgiveness is extremely powerful. Indeed, it reminded me of an NPR “This I Believe” speech I heard a few years ago titled “Finding Freedom in Forgiveness.” Through it, a woman, a victim of rape, and a man, who spent 11 years in prison as a result of being wrongly accused of the crime, speak about finding a certain peace in their lives through their respective and collective process of forgiveness. Here’s a link to the written text and the amazing thee-minute audio recording by the co-authors of the essay. It’s well worth listening to.

In many respects, forgiveness seems entirely unnatural; it’s a selfless act that requires much courage and an active, not passive, mindset. Indeed, the easiest route to pursue when we feel we’ve been wronged is to do nothing but dwell on our pain. Yet, to initiate the process of forgiveness, we need to shift our focus away from the hurt we’re experiencing and look toward taking constructive steps to manage our emotions and move forward.

I hope you or your children never have to endure anything as traumatic as Till’s death, or as the experience shared by the co-authors of the essay. But in a community as large as ours, there are bound to be times when your son will experience some degree of emotional pain through the course of his relationships with his peers, teachers or coaches.

How we deal with hurt, pain, anger and frustration is a key part of the forgiveness process and ultimately plays a significant role in our leading of balanced lives. It’s essential for us as parents to actively model forgiveness in our relationships so our kids clearly see its benefits. If we always personalize the actions of others and remain focused on our hurt, we risk being trapped in the realm of negativity and hindered by an unforgiving mindset that will ultimately impact our personal growth and impede our ability to develop meaningful relationships with others. Through forgiveness we find both freedom and fulfillment.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks for reading,

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