As I reflect on my time as a student at Geneseo I think about two very opposite experiences – James the Resident Assistant and James the Power Forward. It is truly amazing that by the end of each I can sit here and talk about them in almost the exact same way and the greatness of each. But at the end of the day, and aside from the labels, my name is James McKenna and I'm just another kid with a life changing Geneseo experience and one of 5,000 that can call this place "home."
At this time last year I took a risk. I explored a part of Geneseo that was unknown to me. Although it may sound extremely cliché, stepping outside your comfort zone will bring tremendous new discoveries about yourself and the world you would have never found. For most of my college career I was the tall guy in class that people would say "You play basketball right?" and I would respond to the short folks "Well you must play miniature golf." I was comfortable and in my element. Coming up on junior year, I needed something else- a change and a new experience. I didn't do anything like travel abroad, wasn't active enough outside of basketball and knew I was missing out on many great people that Geneseo has to offer.
That's when my thinking brought me back to freshman year. The year most people can agree is the most life-changing year of their lives. I mean think about it – no parents, a building full of kids your age and intramural football. I started to think about how our floor of 15 remained the best of friends through my junior year – it was influenced mostly by my RA. The programs we went to the first week and the activities we did are what laid the foundation for friendships for four years. I thought about how much I had learned about this school and how much I could show young people how to make their four year experience something truly special.
When I think about my experiences as an RA, it seems almost identical to my experiences as a student-athlete. The friendships I made, the conflicts I faced and, most importantly, the sense of fulfillment that came at the end of hard work. I came to realize that the smallest thing can make the biggest differences in peoples' lives. It was amazing to see Residence Life fully caring about each other and making sacrifices. This rubbed off on me when I was able to make a big impact on someone in my hall as he thanked me for being the reason he stayed at Geneseo.
In everything we do in life, that sense of accomplishment is what keeps up going. In basketball it came with my teammates and coaches after a hard-fought win. In residence life it was the little things I saw in the growth of my residents. As a senior first-year RA, I was worried about being included and welcomed into the Residence Life community. And after the first two hours of training I couldn't believe I wondered that because the word of the year was "include." I was able to have two sets of teams by my side if I needed any help or just needed someone to talk to.
That's what I encourage every student to surround themselves with – people who make you better and people who love you. Residence Life and athletics allowed me to explore a part of myself and a part of Geneseo that I cherish so dearly. I was encouraged to put my self out there and command leadership as I lead young and enthusiastic first-year students to all that Geneseo has to offer. And without a doubt, these leadership skills translated to the court and was noticed by my teammates.
The life lessons you learn as student athlete are truly amazing. No matter the situation, I am thankful for beyond words. The bonds and relationships I have created with teammates and coaches while playing the game I love is something that can never be taken from me, and one that most college students never experience. I am fortunate enough to have contributed to some great teams that have had tremendous success on the court, finishing in the top-third of the league in each of my four seasons and making a trip to the NCAA Division 3 Tournament during my junior year. The endless bus trips all over the state and country were the best hours with some incredible people that I desperately wish I could get back.
The main point I am trying to encourage here is the benefit of never getting complacent or comfortable. My long-time basketball trainer would use the words "Make it Ugly" druing drills. Meaning if it looks good, you are not working hard enough and you are not testing your limits. Every time you try something you know going to be hard that you may not be successful in the beginning - don't worry, it is making you better. In college life, it is the same. Especially at Geneseo, it is good to find a place where you feel comfortable, but there are always opportunities to grow and more experiences to gain by "making it ugly." Trying out a new club alone or making a new friend at a Residence Life program are not easy and takes courage. But doing them will not only build you as a person, but also have a substantial impact on college life each time. We are all in it together and, the more people you have around you, the more happiness you will find. Trust me.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family and friends who have supported me throughout my incredible journey here at Geneseo. I am so thankful for the support of my parents, who drove to each game from Long Island, and for my sister, Allison (women's basketball '16), who I got to share these wonderful memories with.
Geneseo is a remarkable place with exceptional students of great talent and character. Leaving this place after graduation was something I was dreading, but all I can do is sit here, smile, be thankful that it happened and reminisce on the wonderful memories I have made.
Thank you Geneseo.
James McKenna '15