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Academy Instructor Chronicles Her Globetrotting Escapades in New Memoir 'Don't Pee in the Wetsuit'

In the time between working as a news reporter and starting her teaching career, Michelle Kennedy found adventure and emotional healing on an unforgettable trip around the world

Seven years ago Michelle Kennedy was a television news reporter at the top of her game when she left her job, packed up her apartment and set off on a six-month trip around the world. 

Adventure ensued while swimming topless in Costa Rica, wining and dining in Tuscany and careening across canyons in Australia. But as she journeyed through 11 countries with her dear friend, she discovered that the trip wasn’t only about fun and excitement, but about healing as well.

“I originally thought I would write a book with my travel partner and we would talk about giving up our jobs and packing up our stuff and taking this wonderful trip and how we did it,” she explained. “Once I started writing, all these feelings started coming up about my dad and I realized that was the story I needed to share.”

An instructor at Academy of Art University’s School of Communications and Media Technologies, Kennedy was a young news reporter at Fox 40 in Sacramento when she saw footage of a multi-car accident that killed her father in 2000. Devastated, she spent the next several years dealing with her grief while throwing herself into broadcasting, eventually landing a job as a reporter at KRON TV in San Francisco before shifting gears and transitioning into teaching. But first—a trip around the world, and while she was at it—a memoir.

Don’t Pee in the Wetsuit: A Worldwide Romp Through Grief, Laughter and Forgiveness features reflections from Kennedy’s childhood growing up with her father in Lodi, Calif., intermingled with the tales of adventure and amore you’d expect from a pair of beautiful, courageous women in their early ’30s traveling the world together. Despite the late night carousing in Dublin pubs, “love shack” trysts with guitar playing Aussies and extreme sports escapades, Kennedy found time to write most every day.

“When you get passionate about something and you dive into it and you find yourself doing it because you want to, that’s when you really know—‘this is my thing, this is the thing that I love to do,’” Kennedy explained. “But it’s not always like that with me with writing, sometimes I’ll be working on something and I don’t feel a lot of fire. With this book, it was burning, and I was really happy being on this trip and finally writing and actualizing this thing that I always wanted to do, and liking it so much.”

A frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and MariaShriver.com, Kennedy has always loved writing, but since completing graduate school, the author has also found great satisfaction in teaching.

“I love being able to share what I’ve learned through working in broadcasting with my students,” said Kennedy, who started teaching at the Academy in 2010.“They are taking it to so many different levels and so many different areas. They go on to be sports reporters, editors, social media managers, some work in production. "It’s great to see what they’re taking from the department and what they’re doing with it. I love that. And I love sharing what I know, teaching them about storytelling and interviewing and on-camera performance and putting it all together to make it effective.”

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The cover of Michelle Kennedy’s memoir, Don’t Pee in the Wetsuit: A Worldwide Romp Through Grief, Laughter and Forgiveness. Image courtesy of Michelle Kennedy.

Kennedy’s credentials as a news reporter who worked her way up the industry ranks has earned her loads of respect from her students, but according to Jan Yanehiro, director of the School of Communications and Media Technologies, that’s only part of the story. “I think it’s Michelle’s humor combined with her own quest for personal growth that makes her an outstanding instructor,” she said.

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School of Communications & Media Technologies instructor Michelle Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Michelle Kennedy.

One student inspired by Kennedy’s drive is sophomore Noa Aliha, who, with Kennedy’s encouragement, published her own book—a collection of poems about relationships, entitled Bits and Pieces. “Michelle puts so much into her students,” Aliha said. “She holds you accountable for what she believes you can accomplish. She’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful I met her. I wouldn’t be where I am now without her pushing me and believing in me—and I’ll bet a lot of her students would say the same.”

Kennedy’s nurturing spirit is evident not only in her classroom but in her process of creating her own book as well. When she returned to California after her globetrotting interlude, a solid first draft of her manuscript sat safely in her hard drive, but she soon realized it had a long way to go before publication. She chopped and restructured with help from a writing group, spiffed up her anecdotes after taking a stand-up comedy class, smoothed some rough edges while working with a writing coach, and finally published her book almost seven years to the day since she left on the trip.

As she delves into the process of promoting Don’t Pee in the Wetsuit with readings, book signings, and all the social media avenues, Kennedy can confidently say that she is happy about the way her career has developed and the decisions she has made along the way.

“I got everything out of this trip that I wanted and a whole lot more,” Kennedy said. “My original intention was to take a break before I got into teaching and segued out of broadcasting, have fun with my friend and see different countries that I was just dying to see and explore—and I got that. What else I got was figuring out that by facing my grief I could finally find a way through it—I didn’t know that was coming.”

Don’t Pee in the Wetsuit”is available at mkennedywriter.com, Amazon and local bookstores.