Franklin & Marshall honors KHS’ Joseph O’Sullivan

Mr. Joseph O’Sullivan, a member of the Social Studies Department at Kennett High School, was the winner of the Franklin & Marshall College High School Teacher Award. The award was presented at the Senior Awards Ceremony for the Class of 2015, May 8, at the Barshinger Center for the Musical Arts.

Mr. O’Sullivan was nominated by a former student, Ms. Leah Brenner who received her Franklin & Marshall diploma the next day, May 9. Leah is a member of Kennett High School’s Classof 2011, and earned her undergraduate degree (B.A. in American Studies) after following a pre-law course of study, Ms. Brenner will be attending Duke Law School in the Fall.

In her notification to Mr. O’Sullivan, Deborah M. Martin, Director of Protocol & Events and Associate Secretary of the College, explained: “This award is a tradition at Franklin & Marshall College and was set up to honor some of this country’s outstanding high school teachers over Commencement Weekend. We owe you a great debt of gratitude for your work to develop the greatness in each of your students and prepare them for success in college and beyond.

When asked why she nominated Mr. O’Sullivan for the award, Ms. Brenner replied, “I nominated Mr. O’Sullivan because he taught his students life skills as well as subject matter. Knowing how to study for a midterm and how to impress on a job interview are important lessons. Even though my career will not directly relate to the classes Mr. O’Sullivan taught, I constantly draw on the knowledge I learned in his classroom. Furthermore, Mr. O’Sullivan always went out of his way to help students — not just me, but many of my friends and peers — in any way we needed. Whether we needed lunch money, a reference, or something more serious, Mr. O’Sullivan was always available.”

Each year members of the graduating class are asked to nominate a teacher who made an extraordinary impact on their education, whether by fostering their love of a particular discipline, encouraging them to stretch their abilities to their limit, or helping them navigate a difficult subject or challenging time in their life. You were selected by a Committee of students, faculty and administrators from the many nominations received.”

Mr. O’Sullivan and a guest were invited to the ceremony where he was asked to stand to be recognized and received a cash prize of $500, along with a citation paying tribute to his teaching and dedication. Mr. O’Sullivan took his mother, Bobbie O’Sullivan, as his guest.

Reacting to the award, Mr. O’Sullivan said, “I was very pleasantly surprised to receive the letter from Dr. Martin. I did not even know that I had been nominated.” As for the ceremony itself, Mr. O’Sullivan remarked upon his experience, “This was my first time to their campus. We enjoyed a great catered picnic lunch along with all of the graduating seniors and their families. It very clearly is a school with a fantastic academic program and it was very inspiring to see so many students receive their awards. When they called my name I felt very privileged to be a small part of the F&M community. What a neat place!” And on having his mother there to share the day, he said, “My father had passed away unexpectedly two days before we learned about the award. Honestly, my mom cried with joy. The award was a gift during a really rough week.”

The citation, prepared by the Awards Committee, was supported by the following statement and career history that reveals much about the award winner:

Joseph O’Sullivan’s teaching philosophy is built on engagement. He meets each student who comes through his door at Kennett High School regardless of their academic or social standing. When asked about his approach as an educator, Mr. O’Sullivan says, “I view it as my duty to help my pupils move up to the next level, whether preparing for an AP course as a sophomore or learning to speak English with a relative degree of confidence in front of their peers. I have a deep respect for the pressure that today’s youth is under on a 24-hour cycle. My pupils’ personal wellbeing is more important than any historical fact that I may impart to them.”

Mr. O’Sullivan’s path to the teacher’s lectern was a winding one, albeit personally enlightening. He earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Penn State University, launching him into a 15-year sports marketing career for top global firms, of which he was a pioneer at the Manhattan firm Momentum Worldwide, at the time the world’s largest entertainment and promotion agency. He rose to senior vice president, worked with major sports leagues, and represented global clients at the Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He then spent a year as vice president of sales and marketing for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

After his time in advertising, Mr. O’Sullivan decided to return home to Kennett Square to reflect on his future. He was a stay-at-home dad for three years while attending night school at Neumann University, where he earned a master’s of science degree in educational leadership. Mr. O’Sullivan has taught in the Kennett Consolidated School District for nine years, including one year as a fifth-grade teacher and four years as a business education teacher at Kennett High School, where for the last four years he has been a social studies teacher.

He still keeps a hand in sports, working with the high school’s athletic department as scorekeeper for the boys’ soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams. Mr. O’Sullivan also works with Hispanic students in Walk in Knowledge, an afterschool study club. As a teacher, Mr. O’Sullivan’s influence is deep and abiding. Non-judgmental, he is known to loan students lunch money and use the opportunity to teach them about credit. He once advised a student against dropping out, but also made sure the student had a job, a car and insurance before leaving”He knew how to speak to every individual in exactly the correct way,” one student says of Mr. O’Sullivan. “He held everyone to the same bar and never discriminated based on a student’s intellect or manners. ‘Mr. O’ taught me that while persistence accomplishes goals, those goals are only worth accomplishing if one also has humility. Most of all, he taught us because he loved to teach.”

Joseph O’Sullivan, for your devotion to improving the lives of young people, your tireless dedication as a teacher, and your desire to instill in your students the skills they need to seek deeper meaning and understanding in their studies and in life, Franklin & Marshall College bestows upon you the High School Teacher Award.

Ms. Brenner took Introduction to Personal Finance with Mr. O’Sullivan and also was an active FBLA member when Mr. O’Sullivan was the chapter adviser. As a high school junior Ms. Brenner placed 8th in the state in Public Speaking II and came in 1st in Impromptu Speaking in her senior year. Leah also was captain of the cheerleaders her senior year, active in the musical all 4 years with a starring role in her senior year.

This article was written by Kim Chiomento, originally appeared on The Times of Chester County’s website, and was reprinted with permission.