The Duck of Minerva

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Remembrances from Sean Kay’s Students

February 12, 2021

This is the fifth in our series of remembrances on the life of Sean Kay. This post is from 15 of his former students. May way we all have the good fortune to shape the lives of students in the way Sean did. We will all miss you brother.

Kemi George ‘01

The loss of Dr. Kay has broken my heart, as it has so many other people. I only wish I could put into words how much this loss hurts and how much Doc (sorry Sean, but you’ll always be “Doc” to me), but I fear I can only manage a pale approximation. As all of his students know, he exemplified everything you could want in a professor. I remember so clearly his energy and commitment to all of us in his classes, and the way he could make his courses come alive. Even now, almost two decades later, I remember going on two field trips for Model UN, with Doc as our combination coach and chaperone. On the bus from Ohio to New York, he would talk about music (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was a favorite topic, especially given our state of residence at the time), alternated with stories of slapstick humor about his time doing research on NATO. He somehow had the time and energy to make a personal connection with all of us in ways that, now that I myself am a professor, I am genuinely amazed by.

As a mentor and friend, he was irreplaceable. I know that he was a constant source of encouragement for me, and for others in the class of ’01 and ’02, and I honestly would not be where I am today without Doc’s continual support over the decades. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I wish I could see him again.

Carrie Wilkie ‘01

I took my first course with Sean Kay the semester after I changed my major to Politics & Government, which also happened to be his first semester teaching at OWU. I had struggled a bit to find my “home” in my studies after thinking I had it all figured out, as most of us think we do at eighteen. I was fairly confident in my choice with P&G, but that first course with Sean solidified my decision. It could be the fresh new approach he brought to his classes, or the approachability he brought to campus, but something about Sean’s nature simply clicked.

Over the years I took nearly all of Sean’s courses, sought his counsel on law school decisions, shared beers at the Backstretch and healthy debates over the drawn out saga of the 2000 election. But where I, and so many others, were truly blessed was in Sean’s sincere interest and friendship long after our OWU days. Sean took every opportunity available to learn and impart wisdom. From sharing articles, to bits of wisdom, to helping me plan a trip to Ireland more than a decade after graduation, Sean brought a presence of joy and passion to all he did.

Sean’s untimely death leaves a hole in many hearts. The loss to his family and friends is most obvious, but I mourn for the generations of students who will never have the opportunity to learn from Sean. Those of us who were lucky enough to count Sean as both a teacher and a friend will always carry his bits of wisdom with us and, if we’re lucky, live up to his legacy.

Monika Papczynski ’02

I came to Ohio Wesleyan in September of 1998 as an international student. I left my friends, I left my family and I left my country to find new opportunities and new adventures in the US. I feel so extremely lucky to be one of Dr. Kay’s first students at OWU. After taking his class, I knew I wanted and needed to take more of his courses. He was so intelligent, so engaging and very inspiring. It’s because of Dr. Kay that I chose International Studies as my second major. Throughout the 3 years of knowing him at OWU, Dr. Kay became not only my favorite professor but also my mentor and my friend. I knew I could count on him in good and bad times. He had a special connection with his students, he was understanding, he was caring, and he was so very cool. Seeing him perform at Backstretch on Friday nights always made my weekends.

Sean Kay touched so many lives and his passing has been extremely devastating. I cannot begin to understand what his family is feeling, and they are all in my thoughts and my prayers. I hope they find comfort in knowing that he had an impact on many lives and inspired so many people. I am blessed to have had him impact my life.

Erin Donnally Drake, ‘02

I was fortunate to be among the first classes of students to have Dr. Kay at Ohio Wesleyan taking a total of six classes from him, which I jokingly called my “minor in Dr. Kay.” He was the consummate liberal arts educator, and I benefitted deeply from his expertise, his passion for teaching, and his mentorship. My focus in this tribute, however, is his dedication to and love for his family. I remember a conversation I had with Dr. Kay when I was a 19-year old student puzzled by why he would ever give up his life in Washington to come to Ohio Wesleyan of all places.  Without hesitation he talked of his family, his wife and his two daughters (which became three daughters in his first years at OWU), and how he wanted a vocation and a life where he could be available and involved as a husband and father. That was the most important to him. Though I heard his explanation and was grateful he chose OWU, at age 19 I could not relate. Fifteen years later I found myself at a crossroads in my career in higher education trying to balance career and family. I recalled that conversation with Dr. Kay as I made the decision to leave my job and start a new career that would allow me to prioritize family and still have a fulfilling career. I am so glad that I did.  Dr. Kay taught us so much in the classroom and I am forever grateful, but I am also grateful for the life lessons he shared beyond the classroom. He will be sorely missed.

Lucy Maryogo-Robinson ‘02

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. I had not spoken to Dr. Sean Kay in over a decade, yet news of his passing had me deeply saddened. Twenty years ago, as a young international student at Ohio Wesleyan University trying to find my way, I met Dr. Kay. He had made me feel seen and valued.

I had spent much of my first year at OWU aimlessly exploring different interests. Then, I met Dr. Kay. His lectures were compelling. His assignments were a challenge. His passion for international studies was infectious. It is within the four walls of Dr. Kay’s classroom that I so gratefully found my career path. When I graduated from OWU, I received a book from Dr. Kay that still sits on my bookshelf to this day. The parting gift was The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J. Mearsheimer. He had scribbled a few lines in it that read:  “To Lucy – congrats on all your hard work… it had been a great pleasure working with you and I look forward to future collaboration! I’ll miss seeing you around Ohio Wesleyan so don’t be a stranger!” I always was tickled by the idea that one day I might collaborate with this giant; he saw potential in me I did not see in myself. Tucked in to the book was a list of Dr. Kay’s old DC contacts – friends of his that he encouraged me to go meet as I searched for my first job. A few years in to my career, Dr. Kay graciously wrote my letter of recommendation for graduate school. I was eternally grateful for his mentorship.

Dr. Kay was a treasure of a professor, a cheerleader for his students and a special person. As I reflect upon my 18-year career in global health security, I am indebted to Dr. Kay.  I wish we could have collaborated and exchanged ideas on this pandemic. As I listened to some of his recent virtual sessions on the outbreak, I am amazed by the depth of his ideas and by his compassion.  I could not agree more with his recommended multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving and the value he placed on a liberal arts degree that equips students with an array of important skills. While working alongside colleagues in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak, the science mattered, but so did diplomacy in building the trust necessary to get a community to work in unison to defeat an invisible virus. As I work alongside my colleagues on global COVID-19 response efforts, I work across multiple disciplines, focusing on diagnostics, technology solutions for data management and security options for safe traveler programs.  I find myself newly inspired by Dr. Kay’s words and grateful for the education that I received at OWU that I lean on every single day. I feel unequivocally centered in my purpose. I wish his family peace and strength during this difficult time. I hope they are comforted by his legacy and by knowing how many lives he positively influenced. I will never forget Dr. Kay.

Joseph Cellar ‘03

I met Dr. Kay in the fall of 1999. As a brand-new professor to OWU, he was full of stories from his days advising international policy, and incredibly well connected to many fascinating people. Students hung on his every word as he opened our eyes to a world beyond our experiences. Quickly, he inspired many (including myself) to pursue international studies as their concentration. I remember everyone wanting to get to know him better, and he being the kind of mentor you’d like to have a beer with after class. Although we consistently pursued stories about his life, Dr. Kay was more interested in getting to know his students, which is probably what made him so special. He took every opportunity to connect with us, whether it was a discussion after class, a random meeting on campus, or after playing a set at an off-campus bar. He taught us about the complexities of global politics, but more importantly molded us into critical thinkers. However, as I’ve gotten older, I think his most significant contribution was showing us how to build relationships. Perhaps this is why he was so well connected, and so highly respected, by so many. Dr. Kay had a unique ability to bond with all types of people, and although I never pursued a career in international studies, I do my best to connect with students everyday as a classroom teacher.

Dr. Kay,

Every moment we listen…

Every opportunity we connect…

Every chance we grow a relationship…

We honor you.

Marija Bateman ‘03

Dr. Kay (or Sean, as he allowed us to call him after we graduated) was my very first mentor, and somebody who I now largely credit with where I am in life (something I made sure to tell him several times over the last 17 years). Through Sean’s classes, I not only learned the fundamentals of international relations and how to practice our craft, but Sean taught me how to think…and most importantly, he reinforced for me the fact that not everything is black and white, and that no – I don’t actually have to dislike everyone who doesn’t think like me, but that we could actually be really great friends and learn from each other. Most of all – Sean was kind and full of empathy and love, and this was also how he taught and mentored us. When we lost one of my sorority sisters in the fall of 2002, Sean made sure to reach out to those of us he knew were affected by her passing and offered his comfort, support, and kindness…and even dedicated his annual rendition of “Wish You Were Here” to her memory. I will miss Sean…terribly. I’m extremely sad for his family and loved ones, for those of us who considered him a friend, for his colleagues, for our field of work, and those who will never get to experience the greatness of such an extraordinary man.  I will miss his wisdom, his advice, and most of all his friendship. I do not think that I will ever be able to fully express how devastating his passing has been…other than, as I look at the note that he wrote to me before graduation, I use his words and simply say: I have considered it a great privilege to be your student and your friend.

James Glanville ‘04

Dr. Kay was crucial to my development during my time at Ohio Wesleyan between 2000-2004.

My first one on one interaction with him was during a trip to Washington DC for Model United Nations in November 2000. He spoke highly of my brother, a former OWU graduate, and invited me to join the International Studies student board. By being a part of that board, I met many interesting personalities, most notably General Wesley Clark, the then recently retired Supreme Allied Commander of Europe for NATO. During that November trip, he took the team to the State Department. I just remember being in awe. He noticed. During a downtime in the debates, I involuntarily told him I wanted to be Prime Minister of Jamaica. He laughed with his moustache in toe and did tease me for a number of years about the statement.

20 years later, I am not Prime Minister and the wisdom of time has taken me in another direction professionally.  I am gratefully for his encouragement during difficult periods. He helped me develop my analytical skills through many of his assignments, though I did go to a few of his concerts. Unlike many others, I was not blessed to have gone with him to ‘the Backstretch’, OWU’s bar of choice. However, just before graduation, he did take me for a cup of coffee to discuss my professional choices and my future. It was a long talk.

To this date, he wrote the best recommendation I have ever received. I wish I kept it. Godspeed. You were a light to us all and despite the harsh world we reside in may his light of encouragement continue to shine through us all.

Louise Rousseau ‘06

News of Sean’s passing hit me hard.  The untimely loss of a friend and mentor is sad enough, but Sean’s warm and dynamic energy were so unique that the world without him doesn’t feel quite the same to me.  He combined a playfulness of spirit with a seriousness of intellect and a deep appreciation for interpersonal connection.  Sean had the creativity and open-mindedness to allow me, a junior zoology major who had taken no prior politics and government courses, to enroll in his International Studies Senior Seminar in the spring of 2005.  Sean then encouraged me to apply for a position on the US delegation to the Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar (sponsored by the Danish Atlantic Treaty Association); when I was accepted, he helped me to obtain funding to attend through our university.  As our relationship developed we connected around whitewater rafting, music performance, and university politics.  We talked about doing a river trip together, and I sure wish we could still look forward to making that happen together.  Looking over old correspondence with him I see a mixture of banter, internship opportunities that he forwarded my way, dates for his upcoming performances at the Backstretch (our local student bar), suggestions for good trail runs in the area, and plans to meet up for lunch for career advice (which went both ways, when he was considering a major career move).  He wasn’t just a formative professor and role model of how to balance work and play as an adult, he quickly became a friend.  One long-forgotten line of a 2005 email from Sean about my career choices stands out to me now in particular, as a challenge to live up to his legacy and his belief in his students as agents of positive change in the world: “But don’t forget, you have to add saving the world to your resume.”  I guess I still have some hard work ahead of me then, not to mention playful fun and meaningful relationships.  I’m grateful to have had Sean as a role model of what it looks like to live a life that embraces all of the above.

Emcet O. Tas ‘06

When I left Cyprus at the age of 17 to attend Ohio Wesleyan, my family’s greatest wish was that I encounter decent people to guide me through this journey. Sean Kay was that wish coming true. Dr. Kay was a brilliant professor. His lectures were ever so engaging, his sense of humor and ability to inspire students had no match. I had the opportunity to know him up close in my last two years at OWU, when he co-supervised my graduation thesis and hired me to be his research assistant. During that time, I also learned that Sean was an even greater friend and mentor. Our long conversations often started with global issues like the militarization of space and ended with our shared dreams about becoming rock stars — he as the lead singer and I as drummer. Sean was a Renaissance man with diverse interests, and it was this quality that drew a lot of students to his orbit, including myself. He has inspired and prepared a generation of young minds to do great things in life. I consider myself lucky to have crossed paths with him. 

It was an honor, my friend. May you Rest In Peace. 

Anita Chandrasekhar ‘06

Dr. Sean Kay was much more than a professor to me. He and his family welcomed me into their home and made Delaware, Ohio a warm and welcoming place for a young international student like myself. I used to babysit their three beautiful girls and grew close to the entire family during my four years at OWU and they truly felt like my family away from home.

When I look back over the last two decades, I can pinpoint the class I took with Sean that cemented my career path. I had planned to be an economics management major and had a very different trajectory until I took his Global Issues class. I was so taken by his passion for the subject, his style of teaching that made the subject so captivating and fun, I immediately added International Studies as my second major and took every single class that he offered over the next 3 years. I am so grateful to him for the guidance and encouragement and most of all for his unwavering belief in me. And the fun didn’t stop with his classes, the weekends would come around and I looked forward to hearing my favorite professor and his band play at a bar in town. Over the last 14 years, I continued to stay in touch with him and his family and always feel that a little bit of my heart is still in Ohio with the Kays.

And so, I pay tribute to this brilliant man, my guide and my mentor. The passion he instilled in his students will live on for years to come. Ohio Wesleyan and the world of International Relations has lost a brilliant professor and an incredible human being. Sean – May your light shine bright forever.

Brent Perrin ‘07

The sudden loss of Dr. Sean Kay was truly a gut punch to many Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) students who not only took his classes, but attended his performances at the Backstretch. It did not seem real that someone full of life had suddenly left this world. 

I got to know Sean before I even took one of his courses. He always made time to stop and talk with students and comment on shared interests. We both shared a love for music, especially classic rock. Sean would always comment on one of my concert t-shirts when roaming Elliot. I would make a point of attending his shows with Jim Breece at the Backstretch.

Sean’s America Foreign Policy course was one of my favorite classes at OWU. He encouraged open discussion in his class, which lead me to think outside my own world view. I came into college believing it was smart U.S. policy to intervene in most conflicts. After taking Sean’s course and reading the books assigned, my views changed to a more realist viewpoint. Without taking Sean’s course I might now have changed my worldview.   

Sean and I continued our relationship after graduating. We would debate issues from time to time and when he visited Washington, D.C. to discuss one of his new books, I made sure to always attend. Afterwards, he would join OWU alums at the Dubliner for a few pints of Guinness where we would discuss numerous topics of the day.

These examples show how much Sean cared about his students. He invested and wanted them to succeed. Sean was an example of the type of professor who made their students better.

Claire Everhart ‘10

I remember Dr. Kay, who insisted on being called Sean by his graduates, for so much more than the rigor and enthusiasm he brought to each lecture. He also gave so much outside the classroom and off the clock. He supported the endeavors of so many students, including myself, countless times before and after graduation with advice, resources, and references. He cared about the success and well-being of his students and alumni, whether he received praise or credit for such support. His leadership of OWU’s international studies program raised the overall reputation of OWU and attracted many prospective students. It is difficult and terribly sad to imagine OWU, and the community of Delaware, without him. His memory will live on with all of us who have been so impacted by his life intersecting with ours.

Alina Ruzmetova ‘11

A very dark year got even darker in November, when I learned of the passing of Sean Kay.

Sean Kay was one of those guys who knew just about everyone, was involved in just about everything, and everything he was involved in he did exceptionally well.

Sean was one of the most erudite and prolific political science/international studies professors I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I could not begin to name all his scholarly accomplishments – from classes to speaking engagements to published papers, articles, and books.

But for all his accomplishments as a scholar, it was as a mentor that Sean had the most profound impact on the field – and on my own life and career. As the International Studies Department Chair, Sean was my academic advisor during all four years at OWU. When I graduated in 2011, he honored me with that year’s Outstanding Achievement in International Studies award. Years later,  Sean was among those few I knew I could always reach out to and rely on for help – be it for a letter of recommendation or a career advice or just a word of encouragement.

His family and friends have my condolences. I know he will be missed.

Kyle Herman ‘11

I took every course Dr. Kay taught at Ohio Wesleyan, and he became my mentor and friend, like he was for so many others. He had confidence in our abilities even when we didn’t have confidence in ourselves, and he pushed us to reach our full potential. Dr. Kay encouraged me to take the Foreign Service Exam my senior year even though I was too young to join, and he was the first person I told when I found out I passed. He helped two of my best friends and me get into the top grad program in our field, at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, which I hadn’t imagined was possible until the other two were accepted in years before me.

Dr. Kay never stopped speaking out for what was right, and long after I graduated, I appreciated his guidance as we navigated tricky political waters. He was a graduate of Kent State University, and we talked about the parallels between the role of the National Guard in the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings and Trump’s use of the National Guard against peaceful protesters this past June. Those conversations encouraged me to protest against Trump’s deployment of the National Guard in DC in order to draw attention to his dangerous abuse of power. In September, Dr. Kay hosted a webinar with Graham Nash, who sang the original Four Dead in Ohio (along with Crosby, Stills, and Young) as a protest anthem in memory of the Kent State victims.

I know that Dr. Kay has left a lasting influence on Ohio Wesleyan and all his students, which will continue to guide us in the years ahead.

Meg Edwards ‘22

Dr. Kay was a cheerleader. Looking back through my emails with him, I’m struck by how often he offered to write recommendations or put in a good word. He ended one end-of-semester email to our environmental policy class by saying, “if there’s anything I can help with, let me know.” I’m certain that if the entire class had emailed back asking him for assistance finding a job, he would have gladly helped every one of us. 

His encouragement helped me feel comfortable in not knowing exactly where my path would lead. As my interests vacillated between environmental activism, food security, and global conflict, I would go to Dr. Kay and practically beg him to help me pick a field. He would just smile and say, “I think you’re doing exactly what you should be doing”. He was a shining example of an interdisciplinary scholar, someone who saw connections in the world and found value in all curiosity, no matter how seemingly trivial. I think I can speak for all his students when I say that wherever we go from here, whatever we pursue, we will pursue it with a confidence that Dr. Kay gave us to follow our instincts and stick to what is important. 

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Joshua Busby is an Associate Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He is the author of Moral Movements and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 2010) and the co-author, with Ethan Kapstein, of AIDS Drugs for All: Social Movements and Market Transformations (Cambridge, 2013). His main research interests include transnational advocacy and social movements, international security and climate change, global public health and HIV/ AIDS, energy and environmental policy, and U.S. foreign policy. He also tends to blog about global wildlife conservation.