More than 14 years ago, a professor at D'Youville College asked one of her students if he had ever thought about getting involved in politics.
"I think about it every day, but I don't know how to get started," the young man told her.
The professor, Olga Karman, told him simply: "Volunteer."
That's exactly what Timothy M. Kennedy did.
He offered to help with just about any race he could get involved with -- and so the South Buffalo native dove into a field that would eventually elbow out occupational therapy as his full-time work.
Sunday, Kennedy returned to the scene of that turning point in his life. In the Blue Lounge of the College Center, State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer administered the oath of office for Kennedy, the new state senator representing the 58th District.
Kennedy's father, Martin, held the family Bible as Kennedy was sworn in. Joining them at the front of the room were Kennedy's wife, Katie; their son, Connor, 5; daughter, Eireann, 2; and Kennedy's mother, Mary.
At one point in the festivities, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul joked from the podium that she had been asked to introduce each of the elected officials in the room, but since that seemed to include "one in three people here," she simply asked them all to stand.
Those in attendance included Mayor Byron W. Brown, former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak and Patrick Gallivan, who was sworn in Friday as the new state senator representing the 59th District.
Kennedy recounted the three-way race that pitted him against Republican Jack F. Quinn III and longtime incumbent William T. Stachowski, who lost the Democratic primary to Kennedy but remained on two minor-party lines.
"All the cards were stacked against us," said Kennedy, who most recently served as a county legislator. "We were a clear underdog from the start, and few thought we could pull it off."
But "Team Kennedy" knocked on more than 100,000 doors in the district, which runs from Cheektowaga to Eden, and from Buffalo to Hamburg.
"Personally, I knocked on 20,000 doors, went through six pairs of shoes and lost about 30 pounds," he said.
Kennedy vowed to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to achieve what he identified as three main goals: creating jobs in Western New York, with a main component of that being the implementation of UB 2020; reducing the tax burden on middle-class families and businesses; and "cleaning up Albany."
He urged Western New Yorkers to shed their negative self-image and embrace a sense of optimism.
"We need to stop thinking our region's decline is inevitable," he said.
He painted himself as an elected official in the vein of Rep. Brian Higgins, whose campaigns he has worked on. In introducing Kennedy, Higgins added his praise for the new state senator to that of others, who lauded his optimism, work ethic and eagerness for change.
"Ten months ago, not everybody was convinced that Tim Kennedy was going to win," Higgins said. "He overcame every obstacle put in front of him. In the end, hard work wins."