School counselors at South are most well known for their ability to straighten out schedules, widely underusing their talents that inspired them to become counselors in the first place: helping students navigate all aspects of high school. In a continuation of a series of Staff You Might Not Know, the Axe Staff would like to introduce you to Michael Leahy.
When you walk into Leahy’s office, the first things you see are the forest green walls and national park poster. This decoration alludes to a little known fact about Leahy, that he loves exploring Oregon’s beautiful, vast outdoors. Although Leahy grew up in Vancouver, Wash., his grandparents lived in Astoria, Ore., allowing him to explore the Oregon Coast, a place that is “still special” to him. This summer, before the fires made the air unhealthy, Leahy enjoyed visiting the McKenzie pass, looking for little hikes to take. Leahy also loves music, and owns his own record label, Crossbill Records, formed in late 2005. He enjoys folk and acoustic, among many other genres, and cites hip hop as his “first love.”
While music has been a big part of Leahy’s life for more than ten years, he has been involved in counseling for almost as long. Right after college, Leahy joined Americorps, working with students coming out of juvenile programs. Leahy says he was inspired by teenagers and their ability to influence their peers in a positive way, prompting him to consider counseling as a career. Shortly after, he went back to school to get his master’s in counseling, with a concentration in education.
Leahy joined the South staff in 2016, after working at a middle and high school in Davis, Calif. Being a big Duck fan and wanting to move back to the Pacific Northwest, he went to a Portland job fair and his current job fell into his lap. Leahy’s brother-in-law went to South Eugene High School, so he was already familiar with the school’s reputation and was excited to join.
Leahy describes his time at South as inspiring, interesting, challenging, at times heartbreaking, and more often than not, joyful.
“There’s not always a natural inclination to trust adults in school,” Leahy said. “I would hope that students know that the counselors are there for them and that our conversations our protected by confidentiality laws.”
He also hopes that students know that counselors’ sole purpose is not academic advice, saying “scheduling is not my passion.” Leahy is impressed with the number of opportunities that students have created for themselves, as well as by students who fight and claw and scrape their way to the finish line, acknowledging how difficult high school can be.
When asked about his goals for the next 20 years, Leahy says that he wants to get involved with sports coaching, which he used to participate in. He found it a great way to create a “connection to school spirit and students.” He also thinks about starting a private practice, noticing a need for counselors who work with young people. As a counselor, Leahy wants students to know the counseling department’s availability, and that they can be accessed anytime throughout the day. Leahy also hopes to see less kids glued to their phones in the halls, making an effort himself to smile to as many students as he can when he walks through the school, fulfilling another one of his goals: to make South as inclusive as possible.