By: Sneha Kandalgaonkar (‘21)
On March 18, South Brunswick High School had a death in the family.
Mr. Sean Cannon, who taught social studies at SBHS for over twenty years, unexpectedly passed away. He was a beloved teacher, colleague, and friend to all who crossed paths with him.
According to his obituary, Mr. Cannon graduated from South River High School and attended Rutgers University. At Rutgers, he was a member of the Scarlet Knights Marching Band and Mu Upsilon Kappa fraternity. He started teaching at South Brunswick High School in 1999 and taught for a total of 25 years.
But a few numbers and dates cannot adequately describe who Mr. Cannon was as a person, or how extraordinary his contributions were to the SBHS community.
He was a teacher unlike no other, a teacher that elicited the coveted sentence “I hope you have him next year” from the mouths of otherwise apathetic seniors, a teacher who developed notoriety among his colleagues (and sometimes, administrators) for his over-the-top schemes and unorthodox clothing choices, a teacher who piloted his own bizarre but entertaining rituals to promote fun and youthfulness in a seemingly rigid and monotonous high school environment.
Mr. Cannon’s legacy is best conveyed by the people closest to him in the building.
Social studies teacher Dr. Justin Negraval recounted the first time he met Mr. Cannon in 2005 when he “came out from the faculty room wearing boat shoes, a ridiculous oversized button down shirt, and jean shorts.”
Although his trademark outfit often bent the rules teachers were expected to follow, it was only a small part of Mr. Cannon’s philosophy, which was founded on questioning authority, building experiences, and never losing a sense of youthfulness.
Dr. Negraval said Mr. Cannon was an “institution” at SBHS.
“Taking his class was not just a class in US history - it was a Cannon experience, and that experience included things that no other teacher did, ever, [like] going outside to play bocce ball at the end of the year,” he said, “He used to have a thing called ‘travel to the places you’ve never been in the building’, where he would take kids on this trip to places [in the building] they’ve never seen, like the boiler room or the loading dock. It was crazy. He had the ritualistic smashing of the chalk at the end of every year. He would take his class outside and at the end of every year, everyone would get a mallet and destroy this piece of chalk. It would turn into this giant dust cloud which was symbolic of them being officially done with school.
“Who does that?” Dr. Negraval asked rhetorically, “People don’t do that. Cannon did that.”
Beyond his fantastic shenanigans, Mr. Cannon was an incredible teacher who impacted his students with his lessons about social studies.
On Monday March 22, social studies teacher, Mr. Christopher Hines recalled meeting a former SBHS student at Mr. Cannon’s funeral. The student said that he became a lawyer because of his experience in Mr. Cannon’s class.
Mr. Hines added that Mr. Cannon’s impact is “what you hope for as a teacher” and that he was able to do that by being fun and authentic.
Along with the impression he made on his students, Mr. Cannon also made a lasting impression on his colleagues. Mr. Hines, math teacher Mr. Stephen Dentler, and Dr. Negraval relayed how teaching can be stressful at times, especially being isolated from other adults.
“You want someone who’s going to brighten up your work day,” said Mr. Hines, “and Mr. Cannon did that all across the building, not just in the social studies department.”
Mr. Hines, Dr. Negraval, and Mr. Dentler all agreed that Mr. Cannon was like the mayor of South Brunswick High School. He could make everyone feel important and bonded with people beyond his own department.
Mr. Dentler added that Mr. Cannon was “everyone’s best friend. He had something that was important to you that you could converse about. Everyone [was] connected back to him...I always felt that way.”
He also said that Mr. Cannon was like “the physical embodiment of the character, Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and is energized by youth. He fits that profile perfectly.”
His personality is no better summed up by stories about his many antics, and probably the most iconic story is that of Sherman T. Potter, a character from the T.V. show M*A*S*H that aired in the 70s.
“[His character] became a joke between Mr. Cannon and I. He started signing his passes ‘Sherman T. Potter’. Hall monitors would be like, ‘Who is this person signing your bathroom pass?’ That’s how it began, and then it took on a life of his own. Eventually, he got an embosser [which] embossed the signature ‘Sherman T. Potter’. At the end of that year, he filled out graduation paperwork for Sherman T. Potter. Somehow, whoever the secretary was put that name through and they printed out a diploma for Sherman T. Potter,” said Mr. Dentler.
Dr. Negraval added, “Not only did they print out a diploma, but they sent the name to the newspaper. So it was published in the local paper, it was on the senior t-shirt, and they called ‘Sherman T. Potter’ at graduation rehearsal. That’s the kind of stuff he was notorious for. He loved inside jokes, [and] he was a trickster.”
In addition to having fun, he also felt it was important for him to give back to the community.
Mr. Cannon donated to the South Brunswick Human Intervention Trust Fund every year, and firmly believed in giving back to the community. He made public service part of the PLACE (formerly known as IPLE) curriculum and raised tens of thousands of dollars for local families along with his colleagues.
His popularity stemmed from him choosing to be who he was every day, and not compromising his individuality or youthfulness for anyone. Mr. Cannon’s philosophy can live on in his students and colleagues. It is a simple one:
“Know who you are and be it.”
Feel free to share your memories of Mr. Cannon in the comments section below. Find resources and tools to help during difficult times using this link.
Mytreyi Sureshkumar ('21), Esha Peer ('21) and Amal Ali ('21) contributed to the writing of this article.