Brian Mays

He’s ingrained in the mortar of our school. And for the hundreds of staff who knew him and the thousands of students who were here under his leadership, he’s ingrained in us.

Brian+Mays

Everyone knows Sean’s motto “Character Counts.” It was the message with which he started off every freshman class and ended every senior graduation.

Staff knew his other recurring quote: “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” This one was my favorite because it meant I could have carte blanche to teach how I wanted in my classroom … so long as it was in the best interest of students. That approach made us feel empowered, made us feel respected, and made us feel trusted. Sean counted on our character and trusted that we would do what’s best—that we knew when to follow the rules, and more importantly, knew when to break them. I could choose to do something without asking for permission, and if that choice ended up being a mistake, I knew I could simply ask for forgiveness.

Sean had many quotes (“Maslow before you Bloom” and “Think again my friend” among the most recent), often taken from books on the latest educational trends, stuffed with enough Post-its and marginal notes to satisfy any English teacher. Now, I didn’t agree with all of these books or every one of Sean’s mottos. One that irked me a bit was how he wanted staff to be “yes, and” people instead of “yes, but” people. I understood what he wanted was people to move new ideas forward instead of finding flaws, but it sounded to me like he just didn’t want any critical feedback. My problem with this philosophy was that thinking critically is a cornerstone of academia, and without “but” people, I believe we limit critical thought.

While I stand by this point of disagreement, I now realize the reason Sean didn’t have time for “yes, but” people. He wasn’t just asking others to be “yes, and” people; he was one himself. He wanted his staff to constantly be thinking about new ideas, and when they did approach him with one, he never said “yes, but.” Whenever I stopped by his office to ask him something, he not only gave affirmation, he always always found a way to help. I’m going to miss that.

I’ve never known an LM without Sean Hughes. Sean Hughes, to me and to so many others, is synonymous with Lower Merion High School. A colleague who spoke at his tribute reminded me that Sean helped build this school, that decisions from design materials to color schemes to furniture choices were all ones that Sean was a part of. Lunch and Learn, collaborative spaces—our whole school culture is reflective of Sean.

The thought of being at LM without Sean is overwhelming. In moments of grief, I sometimes don’t know how I’m going to keep doing it. But I realized that I’m not really here without him. None of us are. He’s ingrained in the mortar of our school. And for the hundreds of staff who knew him and the thousands of students who were here under his leadership, he’s ingrained in us.

Sean rarely asked me for my opinion, most likely because he was afraid I’d actually give it. The Merionite did ask, though, so here it is: Sean Hughes was the best principal I’ve ever worked for. I’m grateful he took a chance on me eleven years ago and believed in me, even if I didn’t always believe in myself. I’m grateful he made me feel like I was working with him instead of for him. I’m grateful he made this place one I love coming to every day. Mostly, though, I’m just grateful for him.

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