The Columns

My W&L: Patrick O’Connor ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Patrick O'Connor '15

“W&L basketball has taught me the importance of doing the right thing when no one is watching.”

As a Washington and Lee senior, I could write a book about the impact of my college experience. It would have a few chapters of turbulence, but also contain an encouraging theme.
I have learned from some of the planet’s best professors, joined a fraternity, tried to positively influence my peers as a first-year resident advisor, built relationships with a diverse group of students, and traveled to Silicon Valley.

Then there’s my time as a Generals basketball player, perhaps the most impactful component of “My W&L” experience. This program brought me challenges, rewards, and lifelong relationships.

Three of the most prevailing lessons I have learned as a Washington and Lee basketball player are:

It requires some maturity to look someone in the eye and take criticism. People make mistakes. The best ones are made with 100 percent effort and with the right intentions. It is pivotal for someone to meet those qualifications before successfully receiving criticism. Early in my college basketball career, I would try to explain mistakes. That’s a nice way to say I made excuses.
Improved results came when I transferred the energy I used for defending myself to listening and implementing the advise within the content of the criticism. This capability transcends sports. It has made me a better teammate, student and friend. I thank the coaches and teammates who taught me the value of embracing criticism.

I embrace criticism from my coaches and teammates because we share a collective goal. My successes are their successes, and my failures are their failures. They want to push me to be my best, and I should push them to be their best. Pushing one another inherently leads to conflict, which can be a positive, when approached the right way.

An example of productive conflict occurred last year during our preseason. I didn’t wake up early enough to arrive on time for 6 a.m. weight-lifting session. The team penalty for that infraction is a mile run. At 6:05, I was challenged by a first-year, Stephen Himmelberg, who wanted to know why I was late. He did not shy away from conflict. Even as a first-year, he was capable of holding an upperclassman accountable. I will never forget that moment. I ran my mile, and our team grew stronger because of it.

At a young age I learned that a measure of character is behavior when no one is watching. W&L basketball has taught me the importance of doing the right thing when no one is watching, no matter how you feel.

A basketball season is an emotional roller coaster. It’s necessary to act based on pre-set standards and values to avoid the ups and downs. Success comes from acting maturely and reacting rationally, regardless of the circumstances. My teammate, Jim Etling made this clear to me.

Jim demonstrates unwavering dedication to W&L basketball under difficult circumstances. He faces challenges very few NCAA athletes do. Jim suffers from seizures, due to epilepsy. His condition forces him to miss time on the court, but never has it affected his contribution or commitment to the team. Jim does his best to do things the right way, regardless of how he feels. Because of this, he is one of my heroes. My heroes are people that have had a significant impact in forming the person I am today. Jim has set an example for me for me to follow these past four years.

Thank you to Coach Hutchinson, Coach Ey, Jim Etling, Clay Mclean, Jok Asiyo, Darren Douglas, Andrew Franz, John Martin, Blake Cranor, Andy Kleinlein, Stephen Himmelberg, Austin Piatt, Jalen Twine, Ryan McDonnell, Findley Bowie, Mike Hegar, Nick George, Joe Sherwood, Clayton Murtha, and all of my former teammates and supporters of Generals basketball.

This program has positively impacted my life, and I am sure it has done the same for many others. Luckily for me, “My W&L” involved an education with countless valuable lessons outside of the classroom that supplemented all I’ve learned within the classroom.