Right before Christmas break, Priory alumnus Ken Barry, class of 1994, spent some time in the Kevin Kline Theatre with junior school students. He shared his story of how he came to Priory, his decision to stick with the program, and the positive impact it has had on his life.
Ken grew up in North County, making the 25-minute commute each morning with his mother as she drove to work. It was difficult at first, as he felt as though he were leaving all his friends behind in Berkeley. He grew up about a mile and a half away from where Michael Brown was killed, and reflected on how things have changed since he was a child. He spoke about the decisions he made that took him out of that environment, which changed the trajectory of his life. He had considered himself an athlete first, even though he did well academically, too.
He struggled in 7th grade, mostly because he wanted to be with his friends. He wanted to leave Priory and go back to Berkeley, or even to another private school. His mother convinced him to stay through 8th grade, telling him he could always make a decision about high school at that point. What happened, though, over the next two years, was life-changing. “The brotherhood began to form,” he said. “That type of brotherhood is irreplaceable. Look around. The guys you’re sitting next to right now, in 20, 30 or 40 years you’ll be able to call them and rely on them.”
Ken went from saying, “No way am I gonna stay” at the beginning of 7th grade to “No way am I gonna leave” by the end of 8th grade. He had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and learned through a lot of new experiences. He said, “I had a lot of tough love here, and my teachers and coaches were able to give me the right role models to set my sights on.” He began to ask himself, “How can I create my own legacy?” He chose a path that allowed him to deal with adversity and overcome it. “Priory represented a unique way I could set goals and go after them personally. The brotherhood began to be forged through what we could do both academically and athletically. We had the best experiences, working together to beat Burroughs, Country Day, and Lutheran North. You’ll understand what it means to beat Burroughs and Country Day soon! Like me, you’ll make long-lasting friends and memories, and you, too, will be able to sit back and reflect on your time at Priory.”
He continued, “Priory is difficult; I don’t want to sugar coat it. PE in the middle of the day, then go back for three more classes? It’s no different than being studious after practice in college. Time management is critical; it may not be fun to have athletics in the middle of the day but it’ll help you later. The program here allows you to develop well-rounded skills. A lot of schools remain focused only on academics, but at Priory you learn to remain focused on the right things even when it’s not convenient.”
Ken played football and basketball at Priory, and ran track. He held junior school track records in the 200, and high school football records for rushing. Mr. Fiala said that Ken’s all-time rushing record still stands. He had started playing football when he was 10, and also enjoyed soccer and basketball. His football experience earned him a spot on the Rebel varsity team as a freshman. “My entire athletic experience is something I treasure,” he said.
His sports experience at Priory led him to play football at Notre Dame. He chose the cold weather of South Bend, Indiana because of the balance the school offered. “I could get a top-notch education and play football on television every weekend!”
He said, “Education here is one of the better college prep experiences that you can have. I found that going from Priory to Notre Dame to what I’m doing now, most of the things I’ve learned have been transferrable throughout. The curriculum here is solid from a college prep standpoint.” He credits Priory with learning how to study and acquiring self-discipline. “I had to learn when to focus on athletics and when on academics and when on my social life. Having that balance was critical, and those skills transferred to Notre Dame and beyond.”
Ken played for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, who said at his first meeting, “I already know all about you!” Priory’s network of alumni and alumni parents had reached out on Ken’s behalf, and he is thankful for the selfless people in the Priory family. He told the junior schoolers, “The school will be here to support you every step of the way.” Mr. Holtz told him that choosing Notre Dame was much more than a four-year decision, it was a 40-year decision. Ken said, “I made a decision bigger than that already, when I chose to come to Priory. I made the decision to leave North County and go on a six-year journey that got me out of St. Louis, and the ability to see things on a national scale.” He was able to use his experiences at Priory to succeed at Notre Dame. “I had classmates from all over the country and I wasn’t able to play football right away, so it was critical for me to be able to succeed despite the obstacles.” He persevered, and started senior year, playing his first game at The Big House in Michigan. He also referenced playing at USC in the Colosseum as an experience that stands out in his memory. In the same breath, he spoke about playing football at Priory. He remembers scoring a touchdown against Country Day, sending the team to the playoffs for a winner-take-all game in the snow. The following year, the Rebels defeated Burroughs in a big game, and he said walking off the field with his team after that win forged a brotherhood he still feels today. “What I was able to do here can never be replicated,” he said.
A shoulder injury ended his hopes for an NFL career, and Ken suddenly found himself looking for a job. “Now I’m competing with everyone,” he said. “Every college graduate is also applying for jobs.” He felt like he was three months behind his competitors, but persevered. He was offered a position at Ernst & Young, and he credits the foundation he had from Priory and his Notre Dame double-major in marketing and computer science. He now lives in Atlanta and is a partner in a consulting firm, working with companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Tiffany’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Thom’s Shoes, and Sony. He’s still an athlete, and has picked up running. “My friends call me Forrest Gump,” he laughed. “I got up early and ran eight miles this morning, before getting on a plane and coming here to meet with you.”
He addressed the junior schoolers directly. “You all are in the beginning of your six-year journey. You have an opportunity to build a foundation and really grow and become a Priory man. This decision will pay dividends for you throughout high school, college and beyond. You made a decision to come here, you’re going to go through a lot and experience changes. Alumni are here to help you.” He told the boys about the message on the football helmets at Vanderbilt when the school was trying to get its program back on track. “It said WIN, which stands for What’s Important Now. That’s a good perspective to keep in mind.”
Many thanks to Ken Barry, and his mother, for returning to Priory and spending time with current students.