Alumni Spotlight: Brett McGinnis ’11-’13

Below is the speech that Brett McGinnis gave at our Opening Day Ceremony this year. We thought that his own words describing his City Year experience and memories would be the best way to start off our Alumni Spotlights this year. Enjoy!

CYNY '13 Opening Day

Name: Brett McGinnis
Years served: ’11-’12 as a CM and ’12-’13 as a Team Leader at Newtown High School
Currently: a science teacher in Brooklyn

Good afternoon 2013-2014 corps, family, friends, and champions of City Year. My name is Brett McGinnis. I served as a Corps Member on the 9th grade team at Newtown High School two years ago, I was a Team Leader at Newtown last year, and I am ecstatic to be on this stage representing the City Year alumni.  Not too long ago, I was in your seat so eager to embark on my journey as a corps member.  I remember that the fire of idealism that burned inside of me was small because I was unsure of the journey for which I was about to embark upon.  The flame quickly grew as I spent my first few weeks in my school.  Every smile, high five, or “aha” moment that I experienced with a child stoked my fire. I want to tell you: do not be afraid to make your internal fire burn bright because students will see and feel your energy.  Be the light for those same students when they are having a bad morning, day, or week.

The best piece of advice that I can offer is to serve with an overwhelming capacity of zest.  To me, zest is a remarkable sensation of great enthusiasm or energy.  On a cold morning in 1977, a man named Rocky Balboa leapt out of his front door to start what has become one of the most iconic scenes of a movie that has ever been filmed.  As Rocky ran, he waved, smiled, and encouraged people to “come on”.   On-lookers had no choice but to feel his presence.  His zest empowered a large following of children to run after undoubtedly thinking, “I want to be like him, I don’t know where he is going, but I want to go too, and I cannot wait until we get to our destination”.  When Rocky triumphantly celebrated his arrival at the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, his throng of supporters celebrated because they were a part of this.  They achieved this with Rocky because he inspired them to run.  Your students may think that you talk funny or that you look differently from them, but it is your zest that will get them to the apex of this metaphorical run.  You may not see them walk the stage in their caps and gowns at the end of this year but you better believe you ran this leg with them.

It will not all be easy; I remember so vividly when a student of mine shut down because he had just failed a science test.  But I kept encouraging this student day after day with a happy smile and a can-do attitude.  I remember feeling so frustrated at times that I felt like giving up, but I would make myself take a deep breath, remind myself why I decided to serve, and remember my zest.  My student went from being considered “promotion in doubt” to passing all of his classes without needing to attend summer school.  I will never be able to erase the moment when he so emotionally told me that I was the closest thing to a brother that he has ever had.

In closing, when a student says to you, “we have to read all ten pages tonight?” ZEST! Senior corps members: when a corps member says, “we have to record EVERY minute of dosage?” ZEST! And when you collapse into your bed at night because you gave it your all that day to alter the trajectory for even one student, ZEST!  There is not one day that goes by where I don’t relish my amazing two years in uniform.   This experience has undoubtedly changed my career and my view on life.  Two hours ago, I completed my 8th day of teaching as a middle school science teacher in Brownsville, Brooklyn.  It was in my rewarding corps year, that you are all about to begin, when I learned that the best thing you can do for a child is to teach them something.  Be the corps member that smiles, encourages your students to “Come On,” and inspires them to find their place in the classroom and eventually the world.  Again, I thank you all for this phenomenal opportunity and I cannot wait to witness that life-altering impact that you all will produce in our great city.