West Chester University alumni and former president of the Philadelphia 76ers, Pat Croce, has donated $250,000 to WCU’s Center for Contemplative Studies, a minor program under the College of Health and Sciences. The news was announced Thursday, Feb. 18 at the West Chester Alumni and Foundation Center, where he joined the school in celebrating the five-year-old program and delivered an inspirational speech entitled “Connecting Leadership and Mindfulness.”

Croce is an author and entrepreneur who graduated from WCU in 1975 with a major in physical education before receiving his BS in physical therapy at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977. He founded Sports Physical Therapists in 1983 and Pat Croce & Company in 2001, serving as president and minority-owner of the 76ers in-between. Pat Croce & Company owns multiple bars, restaurants and museums in St. Augustine and the Key West. According to Croce, this long and fruitful journey had perfectly led him to the present moment of that Thursday afternoon, as had the journey of every person in attendance—student, faculty and alumni.

“We’re all here together,” Croce said. “Regardless of history… We could be anywhere else in the world, but we’re here.”

And “here” marked a significant shift in future opportunities for the Center of Contemplative Studies. One hour earlier, ethereal music and the delicious smell of spices from arranged platters of Eastern cuisine drifted through the air as more than 200 audience members began filing into the banquet room for the 3 p.m. event, first filling the seats and then the back of the room in a large, standing crowd.

Vice President of Advancement and Responsive Research at WCU, Dr. Mark Pavlovich, first spoke to announce a major expansion of the Contemplative Studies program, thanks to the generosity of Croce’s gift.

“It is our aspiration,” he said, “to become a national leader in this field.”

The program originally began as a Stress Reduction Center in 2006, and according to co-director Dr. Christine Moriconi, it “came and went in waves.”

Since 2011, the Center has been involved in research and with the greater West Chester community, providing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes to Borough leaders. The faculty is well-published and, between them, have attended 17 peer-reviewed conferences, giving the program a substantial national presence. This presence will soon expand internationally, when co-director Dr. Donald McCown speaks at the Second International Conference in Rome this May.

Prior to Croce’s speech, McCown allowed the audience to dip their toes into ancient practices such as mindfulness and meditation. He first engaged the crowd to examine the Center’s logo, a mosaic of intricate patterns which forms a tree. As Moriconi explained, the tree itself was symbolic of being rooted in the present moment while reaching for the stars.

McCown invited the audience to take a closer look at the community of smaller shapes which comprised the larger image and asked them to count the number of hidden birds that could be found. He was given answers afterwards that ranged from “one” to “a lot.” From this activity, he hoped to share two areas of focus in Contemplative Studies: the development of a certain, “friendly” kind of attention and the use of that attention to better your community.

McCown then walked the audience through a short meditation on natural occurrences which are rarely given active thought, first asking the crowd to close their eyes and focus on the feeling of being held by gravity. Next, he moved their attention to the act of breathing, with a hand placed on the belly to feel the steady rise and fall. Lastly, he had the crowd open their eyes again and look amongst each other at the “amazing gathering” of a possibly budding community.

Students who volunteered to talk about their experience after reported feeling “very relaxed and calm.” Another added that she felt “grounded.” A third felt “peaceful.”

“It feels like my mind is clear,” spoke another student from the crowd.

McCown replied, “Now wouldn’t that be useful?”

The Center offers daily meditation sessions in Sykes Room 209 between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., and McCown and Moriconi encourage students to join.

Following the calm of the co-directors’ presentation, Croce took the floor and brought with him an ecstatic energy. He discussed the importance that mindfulness plays in leadership roles, such as the understanding that success comes from “we” and not simply “me.” As a leader, he always preaches to “stick to the golden rule,” to be fully aware and appreciative of others.

Croce went on to quote Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, stating that, “The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.”

Croce told the crowd that the heart is where the intuitive mind and leadership resides, and that successful relationships occur when the heart is integrated with the head.

Extending his interests in Eastern wisdom and meditation, Croce has also taken to learning Chinese this past year and shared some meaningful Chinese characters with the audience, drawing them on a pad propped on an easel at the front of the room.

“Mindfulness in leadership,” Croce later said, “is like injecting the mind with leadership steroids.”

It brings about an acute awareness that can open minds to various possibilities. When practicing mindfulness, he finds that synchronicities occur.

Friendly attention applied to the present moment will, for Croce, open connections and relationships to everyone.

He drew several other characters as well, such as a combination of the terms “road” and “neck,” which he said, together, meant “the Way” or Dao. The symbol for “the Way” combined with the symbol for “small measurement,” he showed, translated to “guidance.” And “guidance” plus the symbol for a finger translates to “leadership.”

Croce said that the Dalai Lama was once asked what makes an authentic leader, and he answered that one must have “practices that [they] engage in every day.” Contemplative Studies, Croce explained, offers such practices for anyone who “wants to enjoy life in the now.”

He concluded his speech by asking the audience what time it was, before showing them the tattoo on the back of his wrist: “Now.”

The ceremony was concluded when Moriconi and McCown presented both Pat Croce and his wife, Diane, with a painting to express their gratitude. Made by a WCU student, the picture contained the Chinese characters for “thank you” and three seals meaning, “one smile,” “longevity” and “prosperous year.” Check out the center spread photos from the event.

Etta Griffin is a fourth-year student majoring in English writing with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at EG826453@wcupa.edu.

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