Passion is an emotion that most people practice in their everyday lives. Passion could be a desire for a sport, occupation, lover, or hobby- It’s a never ending list. What am I passionate about? Well, hockey was my first true love and my passion. But after a series of unfortunate occurrences, it oddly enough became my biggest enemy, and there was zero passion left for hockey in me.
I unexpectedly met someone over a year ago who ended up inspiring me, and has tremendously impacted my life. Thanks to this person, I found my new passion and love. She is a Professor of mine, and has inspired many of her students, and people for that matter.
What I see in her is what I saw in my one of biggest idols, the late Derek Percy, a.k.a. Coach Derek for myself and my hockey brothers. Believe it or not she and Coach Derek have something uniquely in common. Although, Coach Derek is no longer with us, his “little things” are still with me; and I use them in my everyday life, even for my most recent passion-public relations.
Writing is a huge part of public relations, and it has quickly become something that is all I ever want to do during my days and nights. Over the last year my biggest passion has gone from wearing ice skates and holding a hockey stick to typing away my thoughts, experiences, memories, and emotions on a keyboard.
My passion for public relations and writing was inspired by my Professor, Professor Harris. Just as both my coaches preached that, “Hockey is more than just a sport, it’s a lifestyle,” I have found the same with Pr, thanks to her.
As a believer in fate, I was destined to meet Professor Harris. Fate has also led me to writing a story, “The Little Thing5.” But, it’s not just my story, it’s my brothers’ as well, it’s our story. Here’s an excerpt from “The Little Thing5” on public relations, Professor Harris, and “my way…”
It was the winter of 2011 when I had met another very influential person, who truly inspired me. This person was going to guide me into the next chapter of my life. I always like to say that she had realistically, “Saved me.”
It turned out fate brought me to her. I could feel something from the moment we started talking and met. It was this feeling of excitement and a rush of adrenaline that I had been missing for quite some time. It was an all too familiar feeling that brought back memories, and high I had been withdrawn from. I would soon experience that Coach Derek’s “little things,” Coach Kanaly’s personality traits, and their preached “lifestyle” were going to play a pretty major role in what my newfound passion was.
I had been in my second year at Monmouth University, which was my fourth year of college, and I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had done fine in college for the first three years, but I felt like I was, “Just going through the motions.” And, as you know this was something Coach Derek had always stressed not to do, in any circumstance.
I was a communication major, and was leaning towards getting into TV and radio. Doing what with those two things? I had no clue. It took one radio class for me to realize, “Holy shit, I do not want to do this.” I had already struggled with anxiety, Derek and Rich were gone, and Weltz had still been battling. I needed something…
I had no other desire to get into any other major. Around that time people would ask me literally every single day, “What are you studying?” And, “So, what are you looking to do with that degree?” I would just calmly nod, laugh, and say, “I’ll figure something out; I always do.”
In reality, believe it or not, dropping out was a realistic thought in the back of my mind. Why would I want to graduate with something I didn’t like, or thought I couldn’t even continue to pursue? If that were to be the result, coaching youth hockey had almost appeared it would come much sooner than expected for me.
I had randomly been recommended to talk to Professor Harris. Curiosity began to build in my mind. I just had a strange gut feeling I had to look more into this. Was this the break and sign I needed right now? I got Professor Harris’s contact information, and we set up a meeting. It was a meeting I could never forget that opened up new doors for me.
I had never been so excited to go into a meeting with a Professor, or anyone else for that matter. It had been the end of the first semester that year. I walked into the communication building at Monmouth, Jules Plangere Center, and entered office room 210. As I knocked on the door we both made eye contact, and put our senses together who each other were. Right from the start she was more than welcoming and friendly.
She began by asking me if I knew what public relations was, and then explained all the basics to it- what public relations or, “Pr,” involved. She explained how it was such a broad field, and how you could do anything with it, anything at all that interested you. I then explained how I was really interested in sports, especially hockey. She quickly picked up on and saw how I would probably really enjoy, “Sports Pr”, and explained what exactly it entailed. Everything she had to say sparked my interest. I even mentioned after listening to her talk that I may not even want to get into Sports Pr, because the other fields she mentioned sounded just as satisfying, if not better.
I filled her in on how I didn’t really know what I planned on doing with my life, and what my background was with school. She was more than understanding, and could easily relate to me. She mentioned how she was into TV as a career path at one point but had stopped, and could see maybe why I personally did not want to continue to pursue TV and radio.
Our final thoughts from that meeting were that it sounded like this was going to be a great fit for me, and that I would really enjoy Pr. Our meeting was about 20 minutes long, and in those 20 minutes I had that longing adrenaline rush overcome me. She had stressed that it was important to have a passion for something and anything possible to get into Pr, and that you could use that passion as energy with a combination of the things you enjoy most in life, and turn it into a career.
I could feel her passion and happiness for Pr, and for being a Professor. She was just so positive, encouraging, and warming. I had never felt so comfortable around a Professor before, or in a school building in general. I could feel the positive vibes, and was on my way to finally doing something in school that I actually wanted to do. I was genuinely inspired from just talking to her in those brief 20 minutes. I left her office with all smiles. It was as if I had already knew her, I understood and could relate to everything she was explaining to me. I appreciated everything she had to say. Her presence reminded me of someone, it was a very familiar feeling and presence, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it right away. It took a couple of semesters and classes with her to finally realize it. It was the little things…
Harris set the tone for my next semester during that first intro class. I’m sure many others in that class had never had her before, and weren’t quite sure what to expect either. Once again, she was very inviting, warming, and friendly. She thanked everyone for taking the class with this enormous bright and beautiful smile from ear to ear. It wasn’t one of those fake, sarcastic, and uncomfortable smiles you see from teachers who look at their students like, “You guys are so shit out of luck for taking this class…” It was one of the most real and natural smiles I had ever seen. And, she assured us by stating, “We are going to have fun in this class.” You could feel it in the classroom how she quickly grabbed everyone’s immediate attention. That was usually a rare happening from my past experiences in school.
She quickly went over her bright, decorative, and elegant syllabus which even made you kind of smile. Unlike most syllabuses that make students cringe when they go to look at it, where it’s like looking at a $400 speeding ticket. She then asked everyone to go around the room to state their name, some things they enjoy in life, and what kind of music they like -It was different than most ice breakers. Because of her friendliness students were actually eager to speak up. Hell, she was even taking notes on us… Class ended and it kind of sucked that it had to. I wish it could have gone on longer. I had never been so intrigued by a class before, ever.
And of course it was the little things that made Harris’ classes so enjoyable and different. During the semester, as students walked in she would have music playing about ten minutes before class started up. She played music from bands we had all named from that first class. So each week it was something new and different. I thought this so was awesome, and a great way to start your day. It just drew you into a good mood and made you alert. Because of that, to this day, I absolutely have to listen to music to start my mornings to get my day going.
2014: During one of my last classes of this past semester with Harris she left us with some inspiring words of wisdom that I personally took to heart. Even though her students always naturally take the extra initiative to listen to what she has to say, she made sure we were all ears when she said, “No one else is living your life, but you. So, do what you want with it…”
Our final assignment for that class was to create something called a “Dream Board.” A dream board is a designed “board” where you visually express your dreams, thoughts, and is used as a personal visual reminder too. Harris explained to us that we had to design our dream board based off a “favorite word” of ours that we picked. Our favorite word would have to be in the middle of the board, and we could surround it with words or pictures. These words and pictures could be of places we had been, wanted to travel too, plus words that describe us, or that we simply believe in.
I’m not one to be creative when it comes to designing; it’s just not my thing. But, I was really into this assignment. I thought it was so cool. The point behind this assignment was simple. She explained that it was for ourselves, so we could wake up every day to look at it. It was for pure motivation and a reminder to go after our dreams. I was genuinely motivated to work on this…
The word I had chosen as my favorite word, without knowing it was going to be used for this dream board assignment, was “fate”. Before I opened up Microsoft Word to work on the board I quickly just started jotting down words in my notebook. Some thoughts that directly came to my mind were- the little things, believe, love, passion, positive, emotions, public relations, hockey, and my lost brothers. Places like California and London came to mind; two places I absolutely love, have been to, and dream about living at one day. My family came to mind as well, and my nickname given to me by Coach Derek and Kanaly…Mickey.
I wanted to make something different, unique, and sentimental. My dream board was a dark outline of the infamous Mickey Mouse ears. The outline of the Mickey ears symbolizes me. The rest of the words and pictures I chose to place in the face are things that I believe in, stand for, and care about-things symbolizing me. I mixed and combined letters and words together with different color schemes. In the top right ear I placed the McKenna family coat of arms – something I take much pride in. Above my family crest, in the highest part of the board, are our hockey brother’s initials and numbers. Unlike most students, I didn’t finish my board in class. The class was able to be dismissed once they were finished. I know it’s corny and kind of cliché but I really wanted to work on this, and have it be perfect, or perfect for me per say. Everyone left the classroom including Professor, so I was left alone still brainstorming and working. I sat in silence and began zoning out and thinking…
Sitting by myself in a classroom in Plangere, listening to the silence, brought me back to when I used to sit and reflect in the hockey locker room on the nights of practices. For travel hockey, being the first person in the locker room and the last one out to leave after a skate was a normal routine for me.
When I would show up early, I would normally be waiting for a few other teammates to pack a lip and bullshit, but wanting to reflect and take things in was the main reason for showing up early and alone. Walking into Winding River Skating Center for a 9:30pm practice on a crisp fall night included hearing the sound of coaches on the ice blowing their whistle repeatedly, the sound of young player’s voices shouting on the ice, or a puck ringing off a steel post. I used to sit in the locker room and listen to those noises over and over again and smell the Zamboni fumes after starting up to cut the ice in preparation for the next teams practice.
Walking into a Pr class now is the same feeling for me. The class room is now my locker room that I used to have. I’m just as passionate to walk into a Pr class as I was for practices or games back then. It’s just like that same locker room where I used to sit around with my hockey brothers, where now my fellow Pr students are my new teammates, and my Pr teachers are my coaches. It’s just like where my brothers and I used to learn and listen from our teachers. It’s where we used to experience smiles, laughs, poke friendly fun at one another, and where relationships were built.
It’s where we used to experience tears of sadness that we could never forget. In Professor Harris’ classroom, we students, experience those same smiles, laughs, and feelings that I experienced and felt with my brothers while sitting around, whether it was waiting to go out for a game or practice. We even experience similar tears in some of her classes. They’re tears that affect you-to where you won’t forget why you emotionally felt that way.
The students look up to Professor Harris. She is true inspiration, to not only me, but to all of her students. As I’ve mentioned what I see in her is exactly what I saw in Coach Derek, which is a natural, likeable, and passionate leader. She, like Derek, is a leader who knows how to effectively communicate with her students, and any of her peers for that matter. Any time she speaks to us, whether it’s in a classroom or at any kind of meeting, we all take that extra initiative to pay closer attention and actually listen to what she has to say. I can speak for a lot of students for example…Sometimes, but not all the time, with teachers we’ve had in the past go to speak we zone most of it out, basically roll our eyes, and could honestly care less what they’re trying to tell us. Not with Harris though.
When she speaks we listen. We are more than considerate to what she has to say, and respectfully so. Whether it’s about raising awareness for an event at school that students should attend, or the little things in life like preserving the environment and saving bees, we listen and follow. Coach Derek and Kanaly always used a constant saying for our teams, about the coaching staff and our captains, “If he goes left, we’re all going left. If he goes right, well guess what, we’re going right.” When Professor Harris goes left, we go left. When she goes right, we go right.
For example, I started attending her vegan society events, which she started up on her own, this past semester for a project. If anyone else recommended I do that for a school project, truthfully I most likely wouldn’t have taken interest in any of it. But, because it was her who mentioned it to me, I gave it a chance. Turns out, I was inspired from attending the events too.
I once felt the urge to sit down and talk to Professor Harris about a situation and time I was going through which had been going on unsaid for quite some time. I explained how I basically lost all motivation and drive to do a lot of things in my life, and was also unable to give my full effort and focus on different things, like certain classes. I explained how losing three hockey brothers, having a deep personal regret in life, and having a serious shoulder injury took just about all the wind out of my sails to accomplish anything, and took all my passion for hockey away from me. I grew to hate everything about playing hockey. Who was I without hockey? I felt empty on top of all those things, and felt like I had no identity. I hadn’t been myself… But, the only thing that kept me going through the year was attending my Pr classes, doing everything I possibly could to be involved in PRSSA, and help out with our client, the Valerie Fund.
I didn’t give a shit about anything else at the time, why would I? There were more important things- plus unfortunate- in life that I had recently experienced, that were both fresh and bitter in my mind still, and that I couldn’t seem to overcome. My perspective on things was in a downgraded state of mind. I ended up withdrawing from two classes, which I was very stressed about doing, but with some positive advice from Harris- it turned out for the better…
She was one of the first people I told about how this “vision” of mine had been on my mind for months, and that I knew I absolutely had to seek, but I had been putting it off because I didn’t have the time to do so. That something – was writing and sharing not only my particular story, but also my hockey brother’s unique story. It’s a story about how two coaches united a group of young teenagers, and taught them not only lessons on the ice, but also life lessons. It’s a story of how a unique and special group of kids were inspired to come together, growing from acquaintances to teammates, then from teammates to life-long friends with an unconditional love, and how this special group of teammates faced a harsh reality after losing two teammates, and one of their inspirational leaders in Coach Derek.
I continued to explain how I had talked to three different people, and they had all heard and saw the same thing out of me. It was something I had trouble coping with, and believing that I was actually experiencing. I said how I just had this urge to do nothing other than to write, and do anything and everything that involved Pr at school. She encouraged me that maybe I was meant to write this story, and thought it would be best for me to watch a film, The Way.
The Way is a film about a father who travels over-seas after hearing about the loss of his son, Daniel. Daniel had been an interesting person, who loved to travel, and simply lived his life the way he wanted to, just how Harris encouraged her students too.
I had been, and still have an urge to travel as much as possible, and get away from New Jersey. But, this film wasn’t just going to inspire me to travel. This film was going to help me personally take steps in a different direction towards overcoming demons, inspire me, and make me realize certain little things in life I hadn’t before. From watching this movie I feel like most people would be inspired to do what the main characters did, walk the “El Camino de Santiago.”
Sure, it would be awesome to one day maybe walk the Camino, or have someone you know do so. But, what I realized after watching this inspiring film was that I wasn’t actually inspired to make that epic journey, or “way.” My realizations were much deeper than that, and I had an instant connection.
The way for me, “my way,” isn’t to walk the Camino. But, it is a journey that entailed and encompasses a few different things; like writing and sharing a memorable story, and a change of perspective. The story of how three of our hockey brothers were taken from us; A story of how an average kid from Monmouth County, who had no business really becoming so close to a group of people from Ocean County, found an unexpected strong bond, and lifelong relationships with his teammates, plus his coaches. A story how that same kid from Monmouth County lost all desire and love for his passion in life, hockey. But, thanks to fate, found new inspiration and passion. A story of how those same life lessons and, “The little things,” that were learned from the age of 14 to 21 from his coaches began appearing in life as it went on, and in a completely different field and environment, public relations.
Like Coach Derek’s little things, Professor Harris’ life lessons and little things in Pr not only inspire me to succeed in the field, but open my eyes to see things from a different perspective in everyday life and overcome personal obstacles. It’s funny how now I often look at any and every given circumstance in life from a Pr point of view. Whether it’s simply being friendly to strangers, having a disagreement with someone, tweeting, doing work for a fundraiser, or coaching young kids in an ice hockey camp; I now use her little things and life lessons she has taught an exemplified. In a funny way those little things have inspired me to get back on the ice too.
Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t been on the ice for a total of 6 months, about 180 days, the longest I had ever gone without actually playing hockey since I could remember. It had gotten to the point where I thought I would never get back into playing again. But, I was assured by Harris that one day I would get back to playing and that hockey would always be there, and in some shape or form be a part of my life. She promised this “time” I was going through would end at some point.
I can honestly thank her for being one major reason I got back on the ice. An example I see as one of her little things is her preaching to her students about performing random acts of kindness. I recently demonstrated a random act-which largely inspired me to skate again.
Over a month ago I bought my five year old neighbor his first hockey net. I would see him playing hockey all the time in his driveway with his dad. It made me smile and think to myself-that’s exactly where I started playing and found my first passion; playing in the driveway with dad. Even though he was playing outside all the time I noticed he never had an actual net to shoot on. I figured it was time to change that.
The day after I gave him his net I knew it was time to get back on the ice. Two days later I did just that. As I walked out to my car that day- there he was playing hockey in the driveway. He stared over me at and paused. (Remember he’s five so he’s shy.) He stopped playing turned around and stared over at me and paused. It was a look as if he wanted me come over and join him for some hockey. I thought it was ironic this happened the day I decided to “come back” that there he was shooting around. It made me think and hope that one day maybe he’ll experience the same memories, relationships, bonds, life lessons, and little things I did from hockey; have coaches like Derek and Kanaly, plus a Professor like Harris.
Thanks to Professor Harris, a new passion was created, which also reenergized a long lost passion for hockey. It feels great to be back on the ice, and it feels even better knowing what I actually want to accomplish and do with my life. Plus, hockey is no longer an enemy of mine. I no longer have to break a sweat when someone asks what I plan on doing after I graduate with my degree. I can now calmly nod and laugh while saying, “I’ll be alright…I’m in good hands.”
Coach Derek is no longer with us, but his little things still are, especially thanks to Professor Harris. Coach’s voice is still in my head saying, “Shoot to score Mick, and always take care of the little things.” More credit is also due towards Professor Harris, because I have that motivating voice I can hear again in person on a daily basis to guide and inspire me-just like Coach’s did.
“My way” isn’t complete yet, but the journey has definitely already begun. I’ve learned Pr is more than just an educational major for me, but also a lifestyle. It’s lifestyle that I can bridge with my other passion, sports or hockey. I’m doing exactly what Professor had told us to do during that last class, what I know Coach Derek would have said to me if he were still here, “No one else is living your life, but you. So, do what you want with it…” The sky is the limit now.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul.”