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I love it because I think that young people have a real struggle to define their place in the world and have a sense of meaning.

Sean Murphy ’81 believes that helping students realize their potential with excellence is an important goal of education. It is essential, says Sean, to nurture both kinds of excellence, that of the heart as well as that of the mind. He says educators need to discuss that ethic often with students and give them opportunities to practice it. “There are many smart people running around in the world, but not all of them are making a positive difference,” he said. “We need more compassion.”

Earlier this month, Sean became Head of School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, following nine years as Head of School at Palmer Trinity School, an independent Episcopal day school in Miami. The Episcopal tradition is ecumenical, rather than evangelical, so both Palmer Trinity and St. Andrews acknowledge all faith traditions and embrace diversity.

This is significant, says Sean, because teachers can have conversations with students about the role of faith that could not take place in an unaffiliated school. “I love it because I think that young people have a real struggle to define their place in the world and have a sense of meaning,” Sean says. “If religious questions are off limits you close down a big part of that process.”

In his eight years at Palmer Trinity, Sean is most proud of its students’ involvement in community service programs. Palmer Trinity has 40 different service-oriented student clubs and all projects are driven by students. This emphasis on faith and service, along with a solid academic foundation, helps resist what Sean sees as a cultural emphasis on consumption and materialism that can have a huge influence on young people. “Our culture as a whole defines the meaning of being a human as being a consumer,” he says. “We can push against the shallowness of human culture a little harder.”

Sean attended Dartmouth College, but was not entirely sure what he wanted to do after he graduated. Albuquerque Academy English teacher (and legend) Frank Slevin thought that Sean would make great a teacher, and offered him a job at the Academy. Sean taught English at Albuquerque Academy for 15 years and coached soccer for 11. He was promoted to dean of students and served as head of the Upper School, eventually leaving the Academy to become the assistant head of Oldfields School near Baltimore. “The Academy is one of the most fantastic places,” Sean says. He believes that his experience at the Academy helped inform many of the beliefs and ideals he still holds today. “I was born and raised there and I had no idea how special it was. I had the greatest friends, teachers and colleagues.”