Clerkin celebrates 40 years at Gannon

Theatre and the arts only scratch the surface of Rev. Shawn Clerkin


Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, co-director of the School of Communications and the Arts, has been a presence at Gannon since the fall of 1981. This fall, Clerkin is celebrating 40 years at Gannon, both as a student and a faculty member.

Before his days at Gannon, Clerkin grew up in Johnsonburg, Pa. In school as a child, Clerkin often felt left out and disconnected. He was an artist and a musician in a school where athletics reigned supreme.

“If you weren’t in sports, you didn’t have the same status as others,” Clerkin said.

When Clerkin was young, his father lost his job, and their family had to start over. This brought the Clerkin family together, and growing up, Clerkin was very close with his family.

“Family is everything,” Clerkin said.

Even now, family is one of the most important things in Clerkin’s life. Clerkin said that his wife, Almi, and his son, Sheamus, are his greatest influences.

Almi and Shawn first met at Gannon their freshman year, when Shawn saw Almi in a play. The following semester, they were in a liberal arts class together and sat next to each other, and the two had a lot in common through theater.

“He looked at me and thought, ‘That’s the girl I want to take home to my mother,’” Almi Clerkin said.

Now, they have been married for 36 years.

“She is the person who inspires me, provokes me, challenges me, cautions me — she’s the person who can hold the mirror up (and it’s not the funhouse mirror, it’s a real mirror), and make me see myself the way I am and also encourage me to both love the good things about me and change the things I need to change,” Shawn Clerkin said.

Almi also said that Shawn is one of her greatest influences.

“The support, love and passion he shares with people, whether the most joyful times in life or the hardest times, he is generous and kind and there for people,” Almi Clerkin said. “I have learned that through him, and he has made me a better person because of that.”

Shawn Clerkin also said that the most important legacy in his life is Sheamus, who graduated from Gannon and now teaches as an adjunct professor in theater at Penn State Behrend.

“That inspires me, to know that it’s not the classes I’ve taught, not the shows I’ve been in or directed, it’s not anything that I’m ever going to write in any book or produce for any stage,” Clerkin said.

“He’s the one thing that’s actually going to carry on to the next generation. He inspires me to keep being the best father, teacher, friend and mentor that I can be.”

Almi agreed that Sheamus is the legacy they are most proud of.

“He is our best production to date,” Almi Clerkin said. “When you think about what your legacy is going to be and it’s your child, we are very fortunate.”

Almi Clerkin said that while her husband always wanted to be a priest, having a family was equally important to him.

“He knew it was something he always wanted to do, and he’s done it,” Almi Clerkin said.

“How he serves and helps others is very innate for Shawn. The way that I can see him minister every week to his flock is a proud moment. It’s a very proud moment when you see someone you love doing what they love and what they were meant to do.”

Clerkin also found family in Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE), the fraternity he was part of during his time at Gannon.

“We became brothers; we chose to be brothers,” Clerkin said.

“I’m very proud of my fraternity. I’m very proud of who they are now.”

Clerkin said that the PIKEs were incredibly accepting, and they formed bonds that still last to this day.

“I liked the fact that in PIKE, no one cared what my major was,” Clerkin said.

“I walked in the doors and that’s not what we talked about. We talked about what it was like to be in relationships with others.”

Another person who influenced Clerkin was Bill Doan, Ph.D., a former member of the theater program at Gannon. Clerkin loved him as a director and teacher, and Doan’s playful attitude resonated with Clerkin.

“He was a little irreverent, which kind of fit me too,” Clerkin said.

“It was really important to do something and do it right and commit to it. Don’t do something halfway when you can do it full-on.”

Doan also guided Clerkin toward graduate studies and encouraged him to think outside the box.

“He wanted to make sure we all had opportunities to be better teachers,” Clerkin said.

Clerkin was also heavily influenced by Phil Kelly, a prominent leader at Gannon who was loved dearly by the university.

“He was really excellent at leadership and facilitating the work of others,” Clerkin said of Kelly, a retired English professor who held a doctorate in education and served in numerous capacities during his time at Gannon.

“When you’ve been here for a long time, you have two choices. You can either be the bumbling old professor that people laugh and giggle at when they walk out of the room, or you can become Yoda, the wisest person in the room. Phil Kelly was Yoda.”

Because of these influences, leadership is one of Clerkin’s greatest passions.

“That’s something that’s important to me: to continue to facilitate good work and good opportunities for other people,” Clerkin said.

One way that Clerkin executes leadership is through performing.

“I think the university recognizes that a performance that I will do is my publication — that’s how I share my expertise,” Clerkin said.

“More people will see a performance that I will give than will ever sit in a conference to read a paper or an article I write in a journal. I really like that the university has affirmed those kinds of experiences.”

Mary Carol Gensheimer, co-director of the School of Communication and the Arts, said that not only is Clerkin multifaceted, but she also described him as warm, funny and affable. Clerkin was Gensheimer’s work study during his time at Gannon, and now works alongside her in the School of Communication and the Arts.

“He was always a theater, video and audio kind of guy,” Gensheimer said.

Gensheimer also described Clerkin’s leadership style as more personal, rather than formal.

“He is conversational,” Gensheimer said. “He is in constant communication — he does it all the time. It’s part of his DNA.”

Clerkin is also passionate about displaying leadership through teaching.

“I always felt very confident as a teacher — I really love teaching,” Clerkin said. “I don’t know that I’m a difficult teacher, but I hope that years from now students will remember the things I’ve said.”

Gensheimer has seen this leadership through teaching firsthand.

“He’s a great listener, and to that end I think he forms good relationships with students and allows that guidance to happen pretty regularly.”

But while Clerkin is skilled in leadership himself, he is also skilled in delegation, Gensheimer said.

“He knows that he has lines to give, and there are lines that are for other people to give,” Gensheimer said. “You give a line and I give a line, and the plot moves forward. That’s the way he works.”

Because of this passion for leadership, Clerkin is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in organizational leadership. He said the program is both conversational and reflective, which has impacted his work both in the School of Communications and the Arts at Gannon and at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, where he is the pastor.

“It’s kind of taking me in a direction of reflection and opportunity,” Clerkin said.

“I’m always open to something new happening in my life. I like the idea that we’re never stuck in one place — we can always change.”

One of the most sobering moments in Clerkin’s career came when the administration at Gannon did not see him in a leadership role in which he had hoped to be. However, Clerkin did not let this hinder his personal and professional progression.

“I believe that even in those tough moments, there’s always an opportunity to move forward with something new,” Clerkin said. “I am really inspired by the eternal creative human spirit, our capacity to deal with challenges and move forward, even with whatever struggles we have, is extraordinary.”

During his time at Gannon, Clerkin went through five majors, starting as a biology pre-med major and ending as a theater communications major. This is a testament to Clerkin’s adaptability.

“I love the fact that in my life, I have been able to be in television and radio, I publish, I write,” Clerkin said.

“I love the fact that I get to talk to people both in the classroom and in the church. I love the fact that the things I say will challenge them, will spark them and will inspire them.”

This connection between Clerkin’s work at Gannon and his church is founded on leadership and faith. Clerkin said he is humbled to be able to partake in such work.

“I value the fact that I’ve been in positions to be able to facilitate other people’s transformations,” Clerkin said.

“There’s nothing more humbling than being invited into those tender spaces where people are grieving or celebrating and being able to walk with them. It’s wonderful to be a personification of faith and hope in those places.”

Clerkin believes in the balance between humor and seriousness.

“I hope people learn that you can laugh at just about everything,” Clerkin said. “I hope they also learn that there are serious things that need to be addressed seriously, and to always know the difference between those two things.”

Clerkin hopes that after any encounter one has with him, that people come out of it feeling loved by God, and able to be loved by other people.

“I think everybody is loveable, and I want people to come out of an experience with me and say, ‘I feel loved, and I feel like I can love somebody else,’” Clerkin said


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