Linked-in articles/Op Ed’s
Oops I did it again: Why the Coney Island New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge is my new tradition.
January 3, 2023.
The first time (2022) I decided to take my St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands-born self
into the arms of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the annual Coney Island New Year's
Day Polar Bear Plunge, I did it for myself and my proverbial bucket list that was missing this particular
check mark. I also did it, because on those days and weeks we were on lock down during
the heights of the pandemic, I craved being outdoors, and promised myself to take
advantage of the opportunity to do so as soon as one presented itself. Last year,
I quickly signed up for the Plunge, and hardly paid attention to the fact that my
donation (that was not required) went to support a variety of programs for youth and
residents in Coney Island.
The second time I decided to take my Caribbean island-born self to Coney Island on New Years Day to take the Plunge, I did it because I knew my donation would make a difference for Coney Island residents, many of whom call Kingsborough their academic home; because I want to honor my pandemic promise; and let's face it maybe I am on the verge of becoming an adrenaline junkie.
Hear me out. I have no interest (at least not yet) in things like jumping out of planes or bungee jumping, but when I tell you there is nothing like the rush of joy that you experience at the Coney Island New Years's Day Polar Bear Plunge. And no, I am not talking about running into ice cold water (even with a full wet suit on, it is still cold) I am talking about the being in community with a group a people with a common purpose.
Admittedly, I have never been to Times Square on New Year's Eve to watch the ball drop along with thousands of revelers, so I don't know if people are as incredibly warm and joyful as they are on New Year's Day at Coney Island. I can only speak to what I have experienced these past two years. This year, as I approached the registration table to pick up my t-shirt and was asked my name by the volunteer, he said "you were here last year, I remember you". I said to myself, that's impossible. How would he remember me from the thousands of people who have participated over the past 119 years? Then he said, "I remember your suit"(yes, I had on a full wet suit). I was still doubtful of his claim though. He bid me goodbye and and wished me a good plunge. But as I walked a way, realized he was right, because I remembered him too. He wasn't doing registration last, he was by the beach prior to the start of the Plunge and I remember talking to him ( to calm my nerves) for a long time before it was time to plunge.
This year on my first attempt at even going into the ocean, I got cold feet (literally) and turned back only to be turned around, by a stranger who grabbed my hand and said she would come with me. And off we went hand in hand frolicking into the ocean. She got me there, her job was done. But as I decided my job was done too, a second stranger said, you have to plunge, let's do it together. So after a brief interlude of himming and hawing on my end, I acquiesced. She held my hands, and we quibbled for a while about a countdown (I wanted to start at 20; she insisted we start at 3). Three seconds later I plunged, neck deep in water, in the Atlantic on New Year's Day, holding hands with someone I didn't know. What a feeling, the chill of the ocean and the warmth of humankind.
You would think this was the end of it, but I got out of the water, and proceeded to go back in to plunge five more times. Four of those times, felt like the first time (you would think I was being force, but I was going on my own, even as I hesitated with each step), because either I had a stranger leading me in, or in one case two strangers - one person holding my left and hand his friend holding my right hand -who took the plunge with me. But on my fifth trip into the ocean to take yet another plunge (by this time I couldn't feel my feet or hands so I was like, what the heck, I am going for it), I was the one who grabbed the hand of a stranger at the shore having second thoughts about this whole Polar Bear Plunge and ran with her into the ocean. And when she could not bring herself to take the plunge, I said hold my hand and I will do it with you. And we did.
And this is why the Polar Bear Plunge will now be my tradition on New Year's Day. It continues like so many other things, to remind me what happens when we work with a common purpose; how a singular mission brings us together.
At Kingsborough Community College our mission is to offer high quality, affordable, innovative, student-centered programs of study that prepare graduates for transfer and the workforce. For many of our students, deciding to go to college to earn their degree or a credential is like taking a plunge. They want to do it, but it is scary. For some, no one in their family has ever done it. Some know other people that did it, or are seeing other people do it, but it doesn't make it any easier. It doesn't help that many even have people in their lives that try to talk them out of it. Unfortunately some talk them selves out of it, but others successfully talk themselves into it. And still there are others just standing on the sidelines, on the shore hesitant to take the plunge.
Fortunately, at Kingsborough we hold the hands of our students as we bring them into our gates and classrooms to show them that they too have a place here. And when life gets in the way and stops them at the shore of success, we say "we got you" and they are able to avail themselves of a plethora of support services.
Once they get their feet wet, they return semester after semester to take the plunge and it is not to long until they too are at Commencement holding up their degrees, the symbol of their accomplishments that says "they did it"! From there, an ocean of opportunity awaits them. With the courage they developed and the success of earning their degrees and credentials, they actively plunge into careers and four year colleges with unbridled energy and focus!
Thank you KCC for the warm hand you extend to students that says you belong here, we got you and you did it!
Thank you Coney Island Polar Bear Club for reminding me of why the work we do educators is so critically important!