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Following His Path

BSU student pursues degree in field his great-grandfather once taught

When T. Leonard Kelly walked into a classroom in the 1950s wearing his trademark spotless white lab coat, he both demanded respect and put students at ease.

Decades later, the longtime Bridgewater physics and chemistry professor remains an inspiration.

“Grandpa Kelly laid down a foundation and standard that I really admire,” said his grandson, Tim Kelly. “He was very tough, but he cared. That really appealed to me.” 

And it’s why Tim encouraged his son, Sean, ’24, to attend BSU. Now a physics major in the same department his great-grandfather once led, Sean experiences Professor Kelly’s legacy through the challenging courses that build camaraderie among students and professors.

“The faculty all care about you,” he said. “With the environment and other students around me, it’s just fun. It makes it not as daunting to be in hard classes.”

Sean initially attended George Mason University only to put his education on hold after his father faced health challenges. Sean took over the family business developing trade show booths and retail displays, yet never gave up on attaining a degree.

His educational journey may seem long, but it pales in comparison to his travels as a baby. Born in China, Sean first came to the U.S. through a medical mission to fix birth defects affecting his mouth and lips. That’s when he met the Kellys, who were working with an adoption agency to adopt a boy.

A couple of years after returning to China, he reunited with what would become his adopted family and moved to America.

Growing up alongside two siblings also adopted from China, Sean accompanied his dad on business trips and enjoyed a homemade drive-in movie theater in his yard.

“Blessed would be an understatement,” he said of coming to the U.S. and becoming a Kelly. “The opportunity and all of the things laid out in front of me, there’s no other way to say it.”

Those opportunities continued at BSU, where Sean is a member of the Society of Physics Students and participates in the ROTC program through a partnership with Boston University.

After graduation this spring, he will give back to the country that gave him so much. Sean will be commissioned in the U.S. Air Force as a physicist/nuclear engineer. The designation reflects his interests and success at Bridgewater and places him among a select group of Air Force recruits.

“It’s very surreal and humbling to have this set in place in a field that I want,” he said. “Everyone else is looking for jobs and I already have one.”

Professor Kelly, who took such great joy in seeing his students succeed, would be very proud.

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