Ian Kenny is a self-described “generalist”—he cooks, sings, teaches and loves Greek mythology. He’s not easy to pin down, but that’s what makes him such great company. He’s equally ready to discuss pasta, the ideal wedding and what Machiavelli would have thought about the wheel of fortune, but it’s the space between these seemingly unrelated topics that intrigues Kenny. The beauty of coincidence and connection has been an ongoing theme in his life since the turn of events that landed him at the University of King’s College and, ultimately, to being happily married, living abroad and working with some of the world’s most influential people.
Kenny grew up in Ottawa, Ont., and was drawn to theatre and history from a young age. He said it was an early fascination with a book of Greek mythology that informed his decision to pursue an honours degree in Classics and Early Modern Studies at Saint Mary’s University. However, two years into the program, he was forced to pivot when the school scrapped his degree path, landing him on King’s doorstep. He made the best of the opportunity and immediately joined the university’s theatrical society, fully immersing himself in the school community. “Everyone was so welcoming, so it just felt like home right away,” he says. “It was such a fun way to start my first year.”
Law school felt like the next logical step after graduation, but Kenny says his heart wasn’t in it when he sat down to write the LSATS. “I realized that, ‘no, this is not something I want to do,’” he says. “So, I thought, maybe I need to take a second before jumping into another degree or life path, to do something other than school.”
He decided to stick around King’s for a while and spent the next year working in the Registrar’s Office as the on-campus Recruitment Coordinator and says it was a lot of fun. Still, the idea of a master’s degree was kicking around in his mind, so he started exploring different options that appealed to his generalist nature.
“I like knowing a bunch of different things and studying something for a while, (seeing) how they match up and don’t. It’s … fun for me—that whole process of examining,” he says. “I wanted to do a degree that reflected that.”
So, he applied to the Cultural Analysis program at the University of Amsterdam and received a full scholarship—partly due to the glowing reference letters from his professors at King’s.
“They’re so beautiful, and I still read them when I come across them. I have them in a special folder of documents, and they’re just really, really special to me.”
Three days after arriving in the Netherlands, Kenny says he met the person who is now his husband and what started as spending a little time in Europe turned into eight years. He finished his degree and got a job at the university working in the summer programs office and teaching a first-year writing course. But the wheel of fortune never stops turning and about a year ago, Kenny was prepping for his morning lecture when he got a text message out of the blue from a friend.
“He was like, drop what you’re doing and open your email—there’s a job opportunity that you need to follow up on,” Kenny says. He had been considering stepping out of the university environment for a while, so the timing was perfect. “Spoiler alert: I got the job.”
Since then, Kenny has been working as the Program and Development Coordinator at the John Adams Institute—an independent organization that hosts events featuring prominent American speakers, like Al Gore and Toni Morrison, in dialogue with the public. Kenny still has to pinch himself when his Monday afternoon involves phoning up people like the editor of the New Yorker. “You really get to see that these people are all just people … it’s very gratifying to see how people engage with these ideas, but then also, for anyone who is a generalist like me, to get to meet all these people and talk to them is just a fantastic opportunity.”
As someone who gives his all to whatever he’s doing, Kenny says learning to pause and listen to his intuition has been one of the most important lessons he’s learned over the last decade—but this is ultimately when the next move becomes clear. Seek out the people and places that inspire or interest you, he says, and when an exciting opportunity presents itself, go for it. Above all—remain open-minded.
“Sometimes, (I feel like) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the golden ticket, except there are no creepy oompa loompas,” he laughs. “If you’d asked me when I was in high school where I thought my university degree would take me, I would never have had any of these things on my list. Never. Not in my wildest dreams.”