Gabby Richardson

Your support and belief in my greatness convinced me I could do and be anything, and no matter where life took me, my family at Lower Merion would always be cheering me on.

Gabby+Richardson

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over six years since I walked these halls. When I reminisce, I recall spending a significant amount of time in the administration suite. Besides the “why are you always late” speech from Kilpatrick, I found myself in the main conference room often. Whether in the Principal’s Advisory, Student Council, Becton Scholars, or the Strategic Planning Committee, Mr. Hughes and I worked closely on countless projects, initiatives, discussions, and of course the occasional Ardmore Pizza. When I wasn’t in the building, I was on the court or on the field, and whenever I looked to my left or right, there was Hughes cheering us on. So if I was in the building 24/7, Hughes was at Lower Merion 25/7. He truly bled maroon and white.

Last Saturday shook my life forever. As I stand here today, I am still struggling with the news of an LM without Mr. Hughes. How does one say goodbye to a man who never said goodbye, but see you later? In my first semester of college, I made the decision to go abroad, a decision Mr. Hughes helped me settle upon. Following an experience that changed the trajectory of my life, I gifted Hughes a souvenir accompanied by a letter I’ve heard he has kept displayed in his office to this day. So, I decided to share my final letter to Hughes with you all today.

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Hey Hughes,

It’s been three months, one day, two hours, and thirty-one minutes since we last spoke. It was so great to hear your voice. Yes, I did move back from Buffalo; no, I’m not coming to teach at Lower Merion; but yes, of course I will be by to see my LM family. While I would have loved to have made it up to the high school eventually, I don’t believe it was a coincidence you saw my mother. A quick chat later, and there I was emailing you to check in. I was so happy to hear your voice when we spoke. With all the craziness that’s occurred over the past year, hearing your voice instantly brought me back home to high school, when life didn’t seem quite so daunting. I want to thank you for keeping an eye out for my sisters. I mean, I know they are no Gabby, but if I’m stuck with them, so are you.

Anyways, I’ve been reflecting a lot as of late. What does it mean to be a leader? Well this started with a brainstorm of the leaders I hope to embody in my life, and you fell so easily at the top of that list. Have you ever thought about the word principal? Beyond the man in charge, what does it really mean? The word principal comes from the Latin word principalis, meaning first in importance, very closely related to the title of prince. Now, principal is not to be confused with principle, which refers to the original or fundamental source of something. While these two words have wildly different meanings, I can’t help but feel both may be applicable as it pertains to you, Mr. Hughes. Yes, you are the principal of Lower Merion High School, not only the man who reigns with the highest authority, but our pal—but also the principle of Lower Merion, the foundation of who we enter to learn and strive to be. Mr. Hughes, you break beyond the definition of principal; you don’t rule with an iron fist but a listening ear. There is not always equity and equity isn’t always fair, but to you, all that mattered is that which is right and just. While I held the utmost respect for you as my principal, I didn’t fear you. I knew you had countless fires to extinguish, but I never felt my problems were too insignificant to not knock on your door—and for that, I am forever grateful.

Hughes, do you know what conversation runs on repeat in my mind? It was last summer during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. After a beautiful but difficult day of community reflection, you and I headed towards the building to share an Ardmore Pizza, and you turned to me and said, “Have I done something wrong? Do I need to step down?” While I should not have been surprised because candor is what you lead with, at the time I was so taken aback by your question that my response fell extremely short of what it should have been. In the moment, I responded with “Absolutely not.” I should have said, “Mr. Hughes, the fact that you even asked the question exemplifies just how much Lower Merion needs you. It is your selfless leadership that has provided LM students of all backgrounds and identities the platform and freedom to explore who they are.”

It was as if you saw the wall students had around their potential and catapulted them beyond. I will never forget you calling me down to the office and asking if I would introduce the speaker of the day to each class—that day. No preparation, no time to freak out, so I was stressed to say the least. And while I said yes with confidence, I was extremely nervous—but it was that day that you taught me nerves were to be expected, but they should never silence your voice. I know I didn’t say it much while a student at LM, but I want to thank you, Mr. Hughes, for making me feel seen, heard, and, above all, important. Thank you for seeing in me what I didn’t see in myself. Your support and belief in my greatness convinced me I could do and be anything, and no matter where life took me, my family at Lower Merion would always be cheering me on.

Before I leave you, I have a message I would love for you to share with your wife and children. Please thank them on behalf of myself and Lower Merion High School for sharing one of the most amazing and impactful men many of us will ever come to know. It was an honor to call you my principal, but it is even more of an honor to call you a member of my village. Never goodbye, just see you later.

With love, Gabrielle.

***

Thank you.

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