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Student Life

Katalyst Kevin Carroll kickstarts school year with inspirational message


Photo by Katherine Rountree

Author and speaker Kevin Carroll took the stage in Arnold Hall’s auditorium last night to share his story and remind students it just takes some imagination, a little play and a positive attitude to accomplish something.

“I have no special talents,” he said. “I am only passionately curious.”

Carroll didn’t have the easiest time growing up or the most promising future – his dad left him, his two brothers and mom when he was just 3 years old and his mom did the same thing a few years later. His grandparents took over and 6-year-old Carroll discovered something at the playground with a red rubber ball that changed his whole future.

“We all speak ball.”

He found the ball on the playground, but there was no one around, said Carroll, so he started throwing it against the ground, screaming something like, ‘where’s my mom,’ and ‘where’s my dad?’ He turned it into a game – bouncing the ball up in the air, running around and the other kids found him and asked if he wanted to play together.

“It was always about belonging,” said Carroll.

He built that community and found his ‘tribe,’ a group of people that encouraged him and held him accountable, a group he said everyone needs. He was 10 years old when his grandma passed away, but it was around this time he developed a love for reading, which Carroll said all started with “Where the Wild Things Are.” He had his book, his ball, community and the right attitude.

He played all kinds of sports throughout school – basketball, lacrosse, hockey, track and field – and though he wasn’t the star in any of these, he said, he still loved to play.

His resilience lead him to get an associate degree in interpreting and translating, a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and a master’s degree in health education. He joined the Air Force and learned to speak Croatian, Czech, Serbian and German, serving as a translator for 10 years before making his way to the National Basketball Association.

“No dream is microwaveable,” said Carroll. “It doesn’t take overnight.”

In 1995, he became the Head Athletic Trainer for Philadelphia 76ers. Two years later, Nike asked him to join their team and said he could decide his own job at the company, so he did. And after going around to several departments, getting involved in many projects, he dubbed himself a “Katalyst, an agent for change. He helped motivate people at Nike and said he got businessmen to play toilet tag.

“Plato said, ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation,’” Carroll explained.

Carroll left Nike in 2004 and ended up traveling the world, going to other countries to speak and play. He worked with Kurt Perschke in Portland with the Big Red Ball Project to see if people would notice a 15-foot-tall ball. He encouraged people to stop looking down at their phones.

“There’s this amazing screen called life and it’s HD and 3D,” Carroll exclaimed.

He talked about how important it is to be present and to take as much as possible, especially at a place like SCAD, because it provides a nurturing environment, which is not out in the ‘real world.’ Carroll said people have to find that creativity on their own; no one does it for them.

“We can choose to be a victim or a fighter,” said Carroll. “Ultimately it’s your responsibility. You have to decide to be present or not.”

Before leaving, Carroll left students with one of his favorite quotes by William Barclay, ‘There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.’

And finally, Carroll asked, “What’s your red rubber ball? What are you chasing?”


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