The Cambrian

Mackenzie Cunningham: From Bronco to Boston

Mackenzie Cunningham, above, third from the left in the second row, with fellow students in New Orleans helping Habitat for Humanity over spring break.
Mackenzie Cunningham, above, third from the left in the second row, with fellow students in New Orleans helping Habitat for Humanity over spring break. COURTESY PHOTO

Difficult challenges never present barriers for Mackenzie Cunningham. Obstacles that stand in her way are simply new things to learn, master –hurdles to soar over. And for the 2009 Coast Union senior class Valedictorian and basketball luminary—who led the Lady Broncos past the obstacle called Fresno Christian to win a CIF Championship — she is flying higher than ever as a student at Boston College (BC).

A recent interview with the BC freshman revealed what anyone who knows Mackenzie could have predicted: the gracious, unselfish young Cambria woman who earned the Silver Cord at Coast Union for community service is still at it. Indeed, she works with a group called “4Boston” five hours a week, tutoring the children of Somali refugees in South Boston.

She also volunteers with the English Language Learner (ELL) program on campus, helping “… a Chinese immigrant on her English reading, writing, and conversational skills.” In the coming weeks, Mackenzie will be “… spending a few hours reading and working with two kindergarteners at a local elementary school.”

Moreover, Mackenzie eschewed the normal spring break theme of partying on a beach somewhere and instead traveled to New Orleans with a contingent of BC students to help with the repair of homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Working with Habitat for Humanity involved “insulating, dry walling, and painting homes, doing cabinetry work and removing debris from backyards,” she explained.

The most rewarding part of the experience for Mackenzie “was undoubtedly getting to know the people for whom our work was being done, resilient members of the community who still possess such a strong faith despite the havoc the disaster wrought on their lives and city.”

One of the first questions put

to her — is she still playing basketball?— was a no-brainer. Of course she is. This is a highly competitive athlete who led her 2008-2009 Lady Bronco basketball team to a 20-6 season, capped with a nail-biting 44-42 win over Fresno Christian in the championship game at 11,300- seat Selland Arena in Fresno.

Appropriately Mackenzie scored 17 points in that CIF championship game. During the previous 25 games she averaged 17.2 points per game.

“It was the biggest arena we had ever played in, and we soaked up every moment there. We approached the game with a ‘we’re lucky to be here’ attitude, which took a lot of the pressure off of us and allowed us to play our best. Running out onto the court as the last seconds of the clock expired to hug my teammates was unforgettable,” said Mackenzie.

At BC the freshman from Cambria plays intramural basketball, one notch down from the varsity women’s team, which serves as “a great outlet for stress, an opportunity to get back into playing, and a chance to meet more new people.” She also plays “pickup basketball whenever I can with my guy friends,” hits the tennis courts and runs as often as she can.

Academically, she is indeed challenged by the jump to a big college, but Mackenzie feels she was “…well-prepared by Coast Union for the adjustment.” The Coast Union AP classes, in particular, prepared her for the substantial amount of reading, writing, and out-of-class work she must complete. She has not declared a major, but after taking a class called “Inequality in America” she is attracted to Sociology courses along with studies relating to globalization and world economy.

After college she intends to join the Peace Corps and beyond that plans to become involved “in some capacity with a non-profit organization.”

Does she miss Central Coast weather? “This was my first winter outside Cambria, and … the only real winter I have ever experienced. At the beginning of the year, I laughed at the prospect of having to buy a down coat that went past my knees, until consistent temperatures in the teens dictated that it be one of my most-worn items.”

That said, in spite of the brutally cold winters in Boston she “… absolutely loves the winter,” and she has “earned a reputation among my friends as the one who takes pictures every time it snows.”

When she left Cambria for Boston College last fall,

Mackenzie was obliged to make the adjustment from a high school of 250 students to a college with nearly twice as many students (12,500) as the entire community of Cambria.

While she finds most students at BC “are similar to me,” one thing that bothers her is that she “cannot possibly know everyone here the way I did in high school.” Otherwise, Mackenzie is doing what her family, friends, teammates and classmates knew she would: making a difference in the lives of others and soaring past one challenge after another.

— John FitzRandolph, special to The Cambrian