The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Susan O’Bannon

Seeing and talking to Sean always made me feel happy, protected, supported, and light.

I am honored to have been asked to write a short tribute about Sean Hughes. 

It’s really difficult to convey to a young person what it’s like to have known someone for 24 years. You may have family and friends you’ve known for your whole life, so you probably understand to a degree. But it is different when you get to a certain age; time passes differently. Years zip by—memories blur together. Rather than tell you about specific events or stories about Sean Hughes, I’d rather write about how I’ve seen LM change under his leadership over the last decade or two.

We had at least five different principals from when I began to when Sean took over fourteen years ago. LM had a very different culture and feel to it back then, in the mid 90’s. There were times that hazing and bullying got so bad that parents would keep their kids home on certain calendar days that these actions had been done in the past. Homophobia and intolerance contributed to the negative atmosphere. In fact, one of the past principals was part of the problem, dividing the staff and stomping down morale. It was not a fun time to be part of the LM community.

I had been teaching at LM for about eight years when Sean joined the faculty. There were many new hires each year back in those days, with a host of young faces replacing retirees. I always tried to introduce myself and get to know the new people, and I honestly couldn’t tell you that I remember exactly when we met. Over months and years, I got to know him due to his outgoing nature and his willingness to attend the staff holiday parties and social gatherings. He always had a smile, a joke, and was always glad to see you. His good nature was infectious, and people were naturally drawn to him.

At the time Sean was selected to become Principal, he was faced with many challenges: the laptop scandal fallout, the economic bust of 2008, and the construction and transition into a new building. He navigated all of these challenges while at the same time building a positive culture within the staff and student body. People talk about how he spent so much time and energy with the students, and that was indeed one of his best qualities, but they forget all of the other things that a principal does that impact the school and community. From hiring decisions to daily interactions with staff, parents, the school board, and Central Administration, Sean did everything with the benefit of the school in mind. His first priority was to do what was best for the staff and students, always with a positive mindset.

From his “Happy Monday” greeting, to walking through the halls the last day before break, and every one of the thousands of small decisions in between, Sean was good, and kind, and working toward a better LM culture. Somewhere between 2007 and 2021, it worked. One day, I started noticing that students would say “Thank you” when they left class, even if it was just a study hall. There was a general feeling in the hallways that was different, more welcoming, more friendly. Students were now more open about their gender identities and sexual orientation. Bullying and hazing “traditions” had been all but forgotten and were rarely observed.

When you know or work with someone for such a long time, they sort of become part of you. They influence who you are as a professional, as a teacher. All the stories and memories melt together into a general feeling that you get when you think of them. Seeing and talking to Sean always made me feel happy, protected, supported, and light. Now there is also the anger and sadness associated with loss, but someday, far into the future, the other feelings of happiness and light will come when I hear his name.

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