This is a guest post from Sahar Khan, an editor at Inkstickand adjunct fellow of Defense and Foreign Policy at the Cato Institute. She tweets at @khansahar1. This is the third post in our remembrance series honoring the life of Sean Kay.
My cousin is a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan University, and on November 13, 2020 she texted me, “I’m so sorry about Sean Kay.” Sorry? For what? Then she told me that he had passed away and forwarded me the email that the president of Ohio Wesleyan University had sent to the community that morning. I was in utter disbelief and couldn’t think of what to do except forward that email to Ahsan. As Ahsan and I spoke that day, shrouded in a cloud of disbelief, I kept thinking: how do you thank a professor like Dr. Kay?
I arrived at Ohio Wesleyan in the fall of 2002, ready to embrace my newfound independence and American life. I had envisioned my college life to be what I saw in Hollywood movies: full of friends, parties, easy classes, and cool places to hang out in. But reality was quite different and I felt kind of lost — and invisible. I had wanted to do pre-law and psychology but wasn’t sure anymore. I loved politics but didn’t really think of it as a practical field.
So, I ended up in Dr. Kay’s “Global Issues” class my second semester because I needed another class, and I figured reading political stuff would be fun. But that class — and Dr. Kay — changed my life. He made politics come alive. His lectures were like long conversations that were rich, passionate, insightful, and thought-provoking. I changed my major to International Studies that very semester, and took all of his classes like so many IS majors.
Sean Kay, a much beloved international relations professor at Ohio Wesleyan, died suddenly of a heart attack in November. Though I blogged about Sean in December, we will be publishing a series of memorials to Sean from former students and colleagues over the remainder of this week.
The post below is a guest post from Ahsan Butt, an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center.
Even two months after his death, Sean Kay’s passing still feels shocking. Sean was a vivacious, larger than life presence, and only 53 when he died. Just a couple of months before he passed, he wrote to Sahar and me, and mentioned, among other things, a stress-related medical scare earlier this year. But he indicated nothing especially serious or life-threatening. When Sahar emailed me that awful November morning, time froze. I could only greet the news with the word “What” said in different inflections, at different volumes, with different punctuation marks.
Sean was an absolute gem of a human being. I knew few people like him, in our profession or outside. Being an IR scholar was, in many ways, the least interesting thing about him. He was a dedicated family man, one who took the institutions of neighborhood, community, and town very seriously. He was an avid producer and consumer of music, playing regular shows in Delaware bars, collecting mountains of records – most reliably American or British rock bands whose heyday was the 60s or 70s – and writing a well-received book on the influence of rock on politics.
I opened up my twitter feed two weeks ago to some terrible news: our friend Sean Kay died suddenly. I literally cried out “Oh no” and wept for my friend. I had just guested in his class in October, and we had a number of conversations in recent months in the lead up to the election. We were both looking forward to a better future. The news of Sean’s death was just another reminder that 2020 has been truly awful.
Many knew Sean through his scholarship and policy work on NATO. I got to know him over the last few years through our common interests in music and love for the environment.