Head of School Blog
Susan Tyree Dempf, Ph.D.

An Olympic Opportunity

Dear Academy families and friends,

The countdown has begun to the official start of the XXIV Winter Olympic Games which presents a great opportunity for students to learn, explore, grow in empathy and nurture their own dreams for their future.

Held on this occasion in Beijing, China and the surrounding areas of Yanquig and Zhangjiakou, it is reasonable to expect that the television coverage will provide students with information about Chinese culture, languages as well as the topography of China. The sports themselves will offer the chance to learn about the engineering science of bobsleds, the chemistry of ski wax, the physics of figure skating (including the center of mass and projectile motion — vertical and horizontal velocity) and how aerodynamic principles are applied to enhance the flight of ski jumpers.

Beyond science, there will be features on athletes from around the globe which will give insight into where and how others live. There will be stories that inspire and stories that will have us cheering on athletes such as Erin Jackson, Nathan Chen, Chloe Kim and Shaun White (making his fifth Olympic appearance). We may even learn about curling stones made from granite taken from the remote Scottish island of Alisa Craig that once served as a refuge for Catholics fleeing religious persecution in the 16th Century.

While the ‘heart piece’ cannot be predicted specifically, if I have learned anything across my years of Winter Olympic interest and study, I can guarantee there will be moments that inspire, a few that prove heartbreaking and countless that reflect the athletes’ (and their families’) commitment and sacrifice. Lessons in struggle and perseverance along with those of grace and gratitude will have the capacity to inspire us all.

I do not wear ‘rose colored glasses’ when it comes to my interest in the Olympic Games. The Olympics, like most organizations and systems, are not perfect. We have seen the ills of society reflected in them across the years, including the historic exclusion of female athletes from competition, the shunning of gold medalist Jesse Owens in 1936 and the deadly assault on the Israeli team in 1972. The latter example serves as my own first true awareness of a global situation and opened my young eyes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well to the existence of terrorism. I pray that these Games will be peaceful, that their focus will be on the glory of human accomplishment and the possibilities presented by our shared relationships.

I hope that awareness will be raised regarding the value of all humans as each is made in the image and likeness of God. As adults, we also need to be prepared for the children’s questions prompted by media coverage surrounding topics such as human rights issues, gender identity, human-caused climate change and the United States diplomatic boycott. How we handle these questions will shape the thoughts and future actions of these youngsters and may ultimately be the prize ‘won’ by us all as they seek to bring about good in our global world.

Stay safe in snowy conditions,
Dr. Susan Dempf