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Obama's words — 'build a community' — begin with sports

This is the time of the year for graduation speeches, those word spasms of clichés, rationalizations, generalizations and bromides that fill the air space until the real question gets answered for the poor graduates: Where's the party and how fast can we get outta here?

And yet we endure because that's always been the way. Tradition, you know. Except there's something more. And it's tied to a recent conversation I had with a high school coach.

This was a day after a local coach participated in GameDay's latest foray — GameDay Classics — our swing at re-airing a great game from days of yore and augmenting it with a halftime Zoom call that includes the dramatis personae. We meld memories of the game in easy conversation with their post-high school lives. It's been quite well received.

The coach called and recalled a text conversation from a former player who left his program and transferred to a prep school. The player watched the replay of the game and texted his coach, "I shouldn't have left. I miss those days and playing in those games."

And that's really the enduring lesson that hovers between COVID-19 and the lessons it reinforces into our lives: We are all part of something greater than our own self-interest. We've learned of self-sacrifice and the necessity of community, not merely making decisions based on what's good for the individual.

It echoes Barack Obama's nationally televised message to graduates last Saturday:

"Build a community," he said. "No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it's easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we're going to get through these difficult times; if we're going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we're going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we're going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another's struggles. Stand up for one another's rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path."

Obama, in an abstract way, tells us to make decisions based on "us" and not "I." It's a hard call for kids now, especially when parents, strapped for ideas on how to pay for college, opt to send their kids to prep school, stressing the individual over the community.

This is not to criticize the people for whom prep schools have worked. But prep schools, serving individuality and the single student, defy the lessons we've learned from home confinement and the COVID-19. They do not build community.

The virus has taught us the value of togetherness. It has taught us the value of people, of community and the necessity of being together. Because that's how greatness occurs. I fear that decisions based on individuality, not community, tear at the message that's most important.

Just a small example: Over the weekend, Art Peluso, the baseball coach at Waterford High, gave his seniors a Senior Day. He drove to each of their houses with goodies and a message of thanks. It meant the world to the kids and their parents. It's here we note: Art is about the high school program, not a travel team or AAU.

That's because playing for the local high school team and the community means something. It's what Obama meant by saying "build a community." This virus should have taught us by now that we're all we have. Us. Together. And if we opt for making decisions that benefit only the individual, we're all poorer for it.

And so we all may have to — virtually, anyway — endure a graduation speech or two. Just remember: Community is about the name on the front of the uniform. Not the back.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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