When Life and Sport Intersect: Keynote Speaker Address
Four presentations. Six grade levels. More than 900 students and faculty. All in under two days.
The keynote speaker, during Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week 2021 at St. Michael's College School (SMCS) spent the better portion of two days sharing, listening, and relating.
"I was looking for a speaker who had experience with diversity, public speaking, and a similar background to our students," says Antoinette Morgan, interim Student Wellness Officer at SMCS. "He had the experience of an all-boys, independent school. He was also a former high-level athlete at high school and university. I believed his stories would resonate well with the students — and they certainly did!"
Donnovan Bennett, a graduate of St. Andrew's College ('02) and Western University ('07), is a host, senior writer, and inclusive content lead at Rogers Sportsnet. His work focuses in large part on the intersection of sport, race, and culture.
"Sports connects people from all walks of life to a common cause — to cheer for their team to win," continues Morgan. "His message that each person can win a championship if they set championship standards for themselves, is one of inclusion."
Under the theme 'One Kind Word', Bennett addressed students with stories about his journey from varsity university football player to broadcaster, weaving in messages about being a good teammate, upstander and bystander behaviour, as well as diversity and inclusivity, along the way.
Below are some of the highlights from Bennett's presentation.
On his role as inclusive content lead at Rogers Sportsnet:
"I get up every day in the morning thinking about how can we can make our content inclusive, and [that] I can lead on those efforts and having those conversations. It's tough to convince people that we should make sure that our content includes everybody, that we should have a workplace that is safe for everybody."
How you see yourself versus how you want others to see you:
"When you think of anything you want to do in life, any action that you're going to take, anything you're going to say, or even think, think of it through the compass of how you want to see yourself or others to see you. How you want to represent this school, your faith, your country? Ultimately, when you keep that at the forefront of your mind, keep doing that over and over, it becomes who you are.
"The thing that you all need to realize is that being a great teammate, being a great friend, being an anti-bully, being someone who wants to chase championships — in class, the [sports] arena and in your own personal lives — is that it is a journey, not a destination. You just want to build the habits of doing it time and time and time again. Build those characteristic traits until you get to a point where what you continually do, you are, and it becomes second nature."
What sport has taught me:
"The thing I've learned from my time in sports that I think applies to other areas of life is, everyone performs best when they're encouraged, when they feel like they're their best self, when they don't have to kind of look over the shoulder and worry about making a mistake of worrying about letting people down."
On the risks he took and choices made post-university:
"There are going to be some moments in life where you just have to put all the chips in the middle of the table and bet on yourself, because that experience that you're going to get is priceless. And so that was seriously the opportunity that was ahead of me to start my career."
Social media etiquette and behaviour:
"Politicians, high-level athletes, thought leaders, and celebrities all have made terrible decisions on social media. And certainly, you'd hope they make better decisions. It's an issue because, it's all new, it's all changing, we really haven't had the ability to study it and to have the best practices. So my advice would be handled with care.
“If you're going to send something out, or send something to someone else, or DM something to someone — what's your endgame? What is the intended goal? And if the positives don't outweigh the short-term, or long-term, potential negatives, then what are you doing and why are you doing it?
“If you just look at social media through the lens of my grandmother is looking over my shoulder at these characters — you'll probably make some smart decisions."
Following his final presentation to Grade 11 and 12 students, Donnovan Bennett and a group of Student Government leaders, prefects, as well as wellness and diversity representatives gathered for lunch, where the conversation continued.
"I learned that the power of positive thinking and self-belief are much greater than any amount of natural ability on its own. I also learned some very interesting new perspectives on how to view my life and accomplishments with Donnovan bringing up the concepts of trophies and tombstones. Being at the age where we are just starting to choose what we want to do with our lives, it is very important for us to consider how we wish to be remembered in order to make a decision on who we want to be.”
– Christopher, Grade 12 student
"I imagined that for someone to advance far into an industry such as athletics, they would rely solely on skills and ability. Donnovan, however, is a real-life example that dedication, commitment, and optimism have an incredibly powerful impact on success even in a professional field."
– Darcy, Grade 11 student
"What surprised me most about Donovan Bennett’s presentation was how he linked gravestones and championships to the important topic of bullying awareness. Something he told us during our lunch was that time management is key to success. He told us that to grow, you need to figure out your priorities and set them in place first, then do the little things that matter in life.”
– Joseph, Grade 12 student
For her part, Morgan says she hopes students continue to reflect on the deeper meaning — "The importance of making positive human connections, finding ways to be a teammate, and helping others to chase their own championships so they and everyone can win in life."