An Officer and a Gentleman—as Well as Fitness Expert, Personal Trainer, and Holder of a Graduate Degree in Kinesiology: Josh McClendon ’21, MA ’24

Resiliency and personal fortitude led to an ROTC commission and a bright future. Along the way, this Army reservist and budding businessman has tackled challenges including a deployment to Guantanamo Bay.

by Mike Janes, Office of Marketing & Communications | May 17, 2024

Texting potential students a “not too late to apply!” message might seem like a last-gasp measure. Josh McClendon '21, MA '24, however, is living proof that SMC’s Office of Admissions knows exactly what it’s doing.

“My coming to Saint Mary’s was destiny,” the Vallejo, California, native half-jokes. “One fateful text message led to my admission here, and more than six years later, here I am.”

It was early 2018, and McClendon—already enlisted in the Army Reserve—was restless and unsure of his future while taking classes at Solano Community College in the North Bay. He was considering a move to a private institution, and Saint Mary’s thought Josh had the chops to achieve academic success. To sweeten the pot, SMC offered him a robust transfer scholarship in recognition of his 4.0 GPA at SCC—even more impressive than his 3.7 high school GPA.

Josh the Army reservist
A U.S. Army Reservist from age 17, Josh McClendon went on to earn an Officer’s Commission and is now a First Lieutenant. / Photo courtesy Josh McClendon

McClendon was considering both SMC and the University of San Francisco, and he felt a school with access to an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program might help influence his decision. When he learned that UC Berkeley’s ROTC program offers Gael students the opportunity to participate in leadership training leading to a commission as an Army or Air Force officer upon graduation, McClendon’s decision was practically sealed.

Still, uncertainty gnawed at him—until the fateful text from Admissions that tipped the scales in favor of SMC. It was the message he needed to hear at the time he needed to hear it. McClendon sent in his application, was accepted, and went on to begin his coursework and live on campus for four semesters, beginning in the fall of 2018.

“Those first four months were some of the best months of my life,” he says. “I made friendships that still last today, and I just had a blast living on campus.”

A reminder of what’s most important

But reserve duty called again at the end of the year, so McClendon headed to Guantanamo Bay for a challenging stint at the notorious detention camp that lasted until the fall of 2019. He chooses not to talk much about his experience there and prefers to focus on his return to SMC for the start of classes in the spring of 2020. 

“One of the coolest things about my time at Saint Mary’s was when I returned from that deployment and saw the friends I’d made months earlier,” McClendon recalls with a smile. He says he even made a video project about that period of his life.

“Going on an assignment like that reminds you why you’re in the Army in the first place,” he says. “Coming back to a close-knit environment like the one we have at Saint Mary’s, you see the faces of the people and friends that you really care about.”

By 2021 he had earned a BA in Politics—in just over three years. But his SMC experience had only just begun.

Josh and friends
You've got a friend: On left, Josh McClendon with fellow Gael Chris Gallevo '21. “Coming back to a close-knit environment like the one we have at Saint Mary’s, you see the faces of the people and friends that you really care about,” McClendon says. Right, he shows off his dogs Yoshi and Shelby. / Photo courtesy Josh McClendon

Strength as a calling and career

McClendon originally had no plans to pursue a graduate degree and took a semester off from school, focusing his energy on his personal training endeavors, and finishing up his ROTC requirements at Berkeley. “I didn’t really consider personal training to be a permanent job or professional goal,” he explains, “but instead thought of it as a hobby I enjoyed.” That mindset would eventually change.

Envisioning a career path that included working as a strength coach for a NCAA Division I football program, he began looking for a suitable graduate degree program and landed what appeared to be an ideal opportunity to intern with the UC Berkeley gridiron team. The experience was less than satisfying, however, and not what McClendon had hoped for. 

McClendon had also returned to Saint Mary’s to pursue the graduate degree he felt he would need for a career in strength coaching. Unlike many advanced degrees in Kinesiology, McClendon observed, the Saint Mary’s MA program doesn’t require an undergraduate degree in the same discipline. So he enrolled and began taking classes, although he admits his skepticism over whether his advanced education goals had become a moot point after his internship experience.

Josh McClendon, personal trainer
Training for life: With a growing client list and a new graduate degree in Kinesiology under his belt, Josh McClendon seems set for a solid future as a personal trainer and strength expert. / Photo courtesy Josh McClendon

As he continued with various ROTC deployments in pursuit of his Officer’s Commission, McClendon came to realize that personal training might be his true calling. He had become well known at SMC for his lifting prowess. His client list was steadily growing. And he enjoyed helping people to get strong, fit, and healthy. “I already knew that I was good at it, and I finally realized that I enjoyed it, too,” he says in retrospect.   

Full circle 

At this point, McClendon grew concerned about how he would pay for the remainder of his studies. This time, it was the Army that came to the rescue. 

ROTC offered him a full-ride scholarship, including tuition, housing, and food—in short, all the financial support he would need. The catch was an additional eight years tacked on to his commission, which he earned in 2022 in becoming a Second Lieutenant. (He has now been promoted to First Lieutenant.) Still, it seemed like a fair deal.

The military, he says, has been good to him.

“Being in the Army Reserves helped solidify my work ethic and leadership skills, among other things,” he says. It also has aligned well with his personal training career, he points out, as the Army and personal training both require discipline, inner strength, and a drive to make it through any obstacle.

As he prepares to walk the stage again at Saint Mary’s—this time as part of Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement—McClendon says the people and community at SMC are among the College’s greatest assets.

“I worked hard during my time at Saint Mary’s and developed friendships that will last a lifetime,” he says. “The Army allows me to serve and protect, and SMC provided me with an example of the kind of community and people who I serve. That’s what it was all about for me: the community and the people.”

Josh McClendon is one of several military veterans who will cross the SMC Commencement stages this spring. Others include Natalie Cantu MA ’24 (Teaching); Jeffrey Felix MBA ’24; Ryan Harper MFA ’24; Lucas Maas ’24 (Communications); Mike Pineda24 (Health Science); and Kindra Stewart MFA ’24.