On January 21, Casady students, faculty, and staff said a hard goodbye to the beloved Mr. Kelly. After fifteen years of service to Casady School, Mr. Kelly has chosen to retire. He shared that he plans to “spend time with his parents and siblings as well as travel.”
During our final days with Mr. Kelly in AP European History, he spent class time telling us stories, reflecting on his years at Casady, and sharing words of wisdom.
Mr. Kelly’s teaching career began 25 years ago at a school in Pazardjik, Bulgaria. He planned to stay abroad for two years, but ended up staying for six years total. While he was there, Mr. Kelly immersed himself in the Bulgarian language, taught a classroom full of kids, and landed himself somewhat of a singing career.
As I asked him about this teaching experience in Bulgaria, Mr. Kelly explained that he was planning to be an after-school monitor, until he showed up and the principal handed him an attendance sheet and told him he was the teacher. Kelly said that his first words to his students there were “There’s so many of you,” because there were twenty-five kids in his class. Laughing as he recollected the memories, he said, “I didn’t speak a word of Bulgarian, but luckily the students knew lots of English.”
He recounted that in order to find out what was going on back in the states, he had to “go to the nearby hotel to buy a 3-day-old USA Today” or write letters to his friends and family back home. He said, “I am glad I had the experience of living somewhere where I was off the grid,” but that he was certainly happy when e-mail and the internet came along and he could “read the New York Times online.” It was January of 2006, after being back in the United States for several years, when Mr. Kelly was offered a position at Casady.
“It was almost 16 years ago to the day when I got a phone call from the headmaster at the time, Charlie Britton,” Mr. Kelly said, reminiscing. “I was in the parking lot of the city market in Durango, Colorado. I answered my cell phone, he offered me the job, and I said yes. I’ll always remember that moment.”
Mr. Kelly is not only a wonderful story-teller, but also full of advice. He shared much of his wisdom about life with his students on his last few days of teaching.
“Most people think life changes day-to-day, but really, life is a cycle of plateaus and huge jumps,” Mr. Kelly said, demonstrating this idea with a graph on the whiteboard. “When I sent that email to Mr. Sheldon, my entire life changed. Somehow I thought I would be wearing a suit, but there I was, a runny nose and in my pajamas. Be ready for that. It’s like when you meet a certain person, or when you open a college acceptance letter.”
Mr. Kelly went on to give his students advice about the stress they’ll experience in life as they experience jumps. “You always assume your grandparents just know everything about being old, right?” he said, wistfully. “Well, they don’t. Really, nobody knows. Personally, I’ve never known how things work, because every part of your life is a new adventure for you. It’s a little exciting. It’s a little scary. And the stress… the stress can kill you.” He looked up at us. “It’s a relief when you discover there’s a solution to what’s causing you all sorts of stress. Figure it out.”
On Mr. Kelly’s last day, both his seniors and freshmen threw retirement parties for him, bringing in small gifts, a cake, and a signed poster. As we shared cake in the classroom, Mr. Kelly showed us the tie he was wearing: the same one that he wore to his first day of class twenty-five years ago in Bulgaria.
Caroline Watkins (‘22), who has had Mr. Kelly for both Ancient World History as well as AP Euro, shared her sentiments towards Mr. Kelly: “Mr. Kelly has been one of my favorite teachers since Freshman year. If I could have taken a class with him all 4 years of high school, I would have. It’s a heartbreaking loss, but I wish him the best in his new adventure.”
I believe Caroline speaks for all of us in saying these words. As a school, we are eternally grateful for Mr. Kelly’s ever-cheerful presence that warmed the halls of Hightower. His smiles, shout-out slides, and morning pop-tarts will remain with us forever.
As our last AP Euro class came to an end, Mr. Kelly remarked, “Hey, the bell rang and you guys didn’t flee. Kudos.”