Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: the power of arts in education, episode 16

Kenney Alexandre

In this episode, I’m chatting with the second eldest of my favorite Alexandre clan. Kenney followed his sister Tendrina’s footsteps (watch episode TEN!!), joining the Thespian family both backstage and in front of the curtain, for all eight productions. It’s very common for kids to get their feet wet in the wings before they drum up the courage to audition. For my part, wherever an Alexandre kid felt inclined to contribute to Thespians was just fine. Kenney was part of all of it.

The powerhouse Alexandre kids. I just love them.

Once he graduated in 2013, he went to Siena College in Albany, close to his sister, where he earned his Bachelors in Computer Science and minored in Business/Entrepreneurship. He found a position at Tyler Technologies, a software solutions company in Latham, NY. His division deals with transportation, helping school districts with their massive bus routing needs, and East Ramapo (our home district) is one of their clients.

Who is Kenney?

Of the three Thespian sibs, Kenney is the quiet one. He’s social, but not like the powerhouse of my dynamic sister and engaging brother. He came into the district the year after his older sister, who had already made quite a splash in the social, academic and Thespian scenes. He found himself hearing “oh, you’re Tendrina’s brother” quite often, so he knew that he had to figure out who he was and how to make his own impression in school.

He described himself as the silent observer who absorbed his environment, sometimes amazed by everything that was happening around him. Thespians was definitely one of the things that caught my eye, especially as a freshman. He enjoyed other activities on the days he didn’t have any Thespian activity, like Key Club or Computer Club, where he learned to play chess and talked about anything and everything with Mr. Jeune and Mr. Leonard.

The valuable lessons of Thespians

Kenney first peered into Thespians in his freshman year because his sister was always in rehearsals:

I’d trickle in, I’d sit down by the front door and I wouldn’t move. I’d watch everyone being animated and dynamic; it was nothing I’d ever seen before. [I thought] I definitely want a taste of that. Prior to that, I was so soft-spoken, and as the years went on, I didn’t even realize a lot of the things I picked up from Thespians, all of these seeds are planted that grew. [I’m] not so much that quiet kid anymore.

His public speaking skilled blossomed because of it; through those vibrant social interactions, he found his voice. Now, whether he is presenting something at work or talking with a group of friends, it feels more comfortable, more natural, it’s something that is so easy to do. I didn’t consider the fact that these are things that I picked up in Thespians in high school; it made it so much easier now.

He made the transition from crew to cast after some gentle nudging and encouragement from the upper class guys who had a strong presence in Thespians. These were the guys who themselves made the transition from newbie to veteran and found a deep love for the performing arts.

I didn’t think I could do it, I remember being terrified for every audition for all four years, but I jumped in on learned to swim at that point. I’d watch everything come together slowly and I think that process intrigued me. It started with everyone sitting around and reading a book and it would become more and more of this production, this dynamic, big thing that we were ready to share with everybody. I was impressed and amazed and I was like ‘I want a part of that.

It’s funny – my crew leaders now yell at me, admonishing me not to poach crew members into cast.

It’s very hard to avoid. There’s a certain energy; once you hone in on it, everyone is so in sync, passionate and dynamic that you crave more and more of it. The next thing you know, you’re holding hands backstage ready for the show to go on, you’re like, ‘I’m ready to go!’

Another valuable lesson:

Things being iterative. Nothing is done immediately, or perfectly at the gate. I thought you had to know all your lines, placement, movement in the first couple of days and that’s a lot of what scared me. I didn’t realize that it was a daily practice.

So many kids look at the final production from the outside and have no idea how that came to be, how it required over three months of putting many, many hours of time and bursts of effort and energy to come to fruition. I love to hear how perceptions change when they actually go through the entire process. Kenney now understands the necessity of the slow grind.

As you hone in and practice and commit to what you want to see as an end result, it pretty much becomes that end result.

How has Kenney changed since high school?

Now, I never shut up. Figuring out his identity in high school was the compass that helped him develop into the confident adult he is now. The I have to get it right on the first try perfectionism that came with living in a household of educated, high-achievers has also waned. He is comfortable with himself and what he has to offer the world: I know exactly who I am, what I like and what I don’t.

He has a few things that he’d tell his younger self:

Don’t sweat the small things. Everything finds a way to fall into place. It’s kind of serendipitous. You have to be patient, give it time. It’s all going to fit and it’s all going to feel right. Worry less. I can’t believe some of the things I was stressing in high school. You’re going to grow into yourself.

Every adolescent needs to post this on their wall, emblazon that on their brain, and take a breath. I know that will never happen because…adolescents…but it’s something I wish for them to understand every day. Kenney suggests that when you unabashedly become yourself, it gets easier from then on, not harder.

What does Kenney grapple with now?

He tends to get a case of option paralysis. When there are so many things you want to do and hold your interest, it’s hard to settle in and make a choice to move forward. I’m trying to chase many rabbits and catching none. You wouldn’t think that someone would be scared of the expression ‘you can do anything you want in this life’ but somehow I’ve found a way. When the possibilities are so vast and open to you, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what to do and where to go. We are creatures of habit, and the possibilities don’t fall into habit until we make it so.

Adolescents often suffer from option paralysis; choosing colleges, majors, jobs, and activities to be a part of can easily become overwhelming and daunting. It gets worse when you insert social media making our world that much bigger. Kenney added, it tunnels them into a rat-race point of view; now everyone is throwing natural comparisons as they swipe. Life is not about comparison. Most people won’t ever go skydiving in the Maldives or go on a Kenyan safari, like they see as they swipe their social media, but we all need to identify the things that we would like to do in order to make any plans to move forward. If your desires are intrinsically motivated, then the satisfaction of achieving them will be real. Our desires should never be driven by the extrinsic expectations of flashy social media.

Adolescence vs adulthood

The height has gotten better. I was a late bloomer; I didn’t get tall until senior year, freshman year in college and I was like ‘everyone is so short now!’

Interestingly, Kenney misses just how observant he was as a teenager. Then, it was a prominent part of his personality. Now, adult Kenney has gotten a bit more impulsive; he dives in without taking that quick pause and saying ‘what am I working with, what’s going on here?’ Adults seem to have less time to muse about the things they observe; responsibilities, schedules, busy-ness fills our mental space so much that being mindful and in the moment seems like a luxury. As adults, we also have less patience for indecision; when there are 30 things on a menu, young Kenney would have read every single item, then made a decision. Adult Kenney just chooses the first thing that looks really good.

His older self is also much bolder. He’s not afraid of jumping in and trying new things, then thinking about it later, which settled in when he started college. When the world gets bigger, you’d think the probability of option paralysis to settle in would be much higher. Instead, Kenney’s thought was, sign me up for everything! He really wanted to try everything to test out what liked and what he didn’t, which helped inform his of the decisions he might make in the future.

A fun side note, I ribbed him a little for not taking my dance class in high school. Apparently, that was one of his big regrets because in college, he signed up! Latin Fever club, Bhangra, Hip Hop/Contemporary, we were running from one practice to the other every day of the week. I was so happy I did it. Everyone comes into their own in their own time. I’m not bitter…much.

Sage advice

Try everything and anything, and love the process. There’s that word again; the process is the most important part of learning. End results are fine, but getting there is where our growth happens. If it’s more so out of your comfort zone, [all] the better because you might have stumbled into something great that you definitely will appreciate later. Or, if it’s something you absolutely could not stand, it adds on to what you like and what you don’t.

Another little gem that Kenney offered: Find the person you most emulate and follow the steps to become that person. It could be someone real or fictional; if you resonate with a character in a book, maybe backtrack how did they get there? I would add to this, how do I become my version of the person I emulate? How do I become the best version of me, based on the characteristics I admire in others? Be the “OG.”

One more, and this is important: Listen to your guidance counselor, especially if they are your father. That was a great laugh. His younger self thought that ‘adults just don’t get it. Times are different, they don’t know...‘ but they know! You don’t want to admit it or see it, but they were there, they were once high school kids, they’ve walked through all the things that you’ve walked through. So, when they give you that token of their experience, it’s like a cheat code. You can use that to side step the stuff that they had to deal with. (Kenney kindly verified what a cheat code was, so now I understand the context. I’m old.) The elders don’t know everything, but we know a lot.

Self-care

In high school, Thespians and band bolstered his natural affinity for music, and in recent years he has picked up some instruments and learned to play music for fun. He entertains himself by listening to podcasts and other people’s opinions and perspectives about quirky subjects. Finally, lots and lots of ice cream. We bonded even more over our mutual love of mint chocolate chip; I knew I liked Kenney for more than one reason.

Enjoy our heartwarming look back to Kenney’s beloved Thespian days. You can also meet his fabulous older sister Tendrina in Episode TEN on the Changed for the Better podcast channel. Still to come, you’ll soon meet the youngest of the Thespian Alexandre trio, Kinsley in Episode 18. Stay tuned!

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