As a teenager, he was the basketball coach at Valley Plaza Park. The parents of the children who played in the park were not sure if someone so young would be able to lead the team. He coached so well that one of his students, Gilbert Arenas, even found their way to the NBA for the Washington Wizards.
That teenage coach later became James McKeever, a Pierce College professor who won the 2021 Hayward Award.
The Hayward Award, sponsored by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, is usually awarded to community college faculty who demonstrate the highest level of commitment to their students, college and profession.
“It’s an amazing honor to receive it, especially knowing how many people out there deserve it as much or more than I do,” McKeever said. “But for me it’s not about the award, it’s about the work I do for the community and that’s the most important thing.”
Director of Valley Plaza Park Bill Dusenberry said that he mentored and encouraged McKeever to pursue community work.
“You never know how big or little something you say to someone is going to mean and make a big difference in their lives and then they’ll go on to do other things for other people,” Dunsenberry said.
Pierce College President Alexis Montevirgen said that he was proud to lead a college with such a committed and passionate faculty. Montevirgen summarized Mckeever receiving the award as “a feather in the institution’s cap”.
“James McKeever is just one example of the great faculty that we’re lucky enough to have on campus in terms of their scholarly activity, their commitment to the field, diversity, equity and inclusion,” Montevirgen said in a zoom interview.
Pierce Philosophy and Sociology Chair Cara Gillis said that she feels lucky to call McKeever her friend and appreciates his company at the college.
“You can have these really hard, intellectual conversations about so many different subject areas and James is always willing to share what he knows with you,” Gillis said. “The faculty and the students are super fortunate to have him because he helps everybody kind of rise up.”
Gillis said that during her transition as Chair of the Philosophy and Sociology department, McKeever helped her familiarize herself with the rest of the faculty.
“He was the [previous] department chair, so when I was taking over he told me to come to the meetings and introduced me to everybody,” Gillis said. “James does so much amazing stuff on campus. It’s like he has his finger on the pulse of what’s important to our students on campus.”
McKeever said that through his commitment to the community, he fell in love with helping his students and community colleges would hold a special place in his heart.
“I’ve always felt like I have to give back to the spaces that had given me so much and community college gave me a lot,” McKeever said. “There are no more hard working, deserving people than the students that go to community college. They come from such diverse backgrounds and I just feel lucky to be able to work with them.”