At the age of 12, Eugene Hughes first picked up Pat Conroy’s 1972 memoir, “The Water is Wide.” The memoir captured Hughes’ attention and sparked his passion for education and the pursuit of knowledge.
“[‘The Water is Wide’] is not the greatest book ever, now that I’ve reread it, but the very first few pages talk about [Conroy] sitting down with the guy who was going to hire him, the superintendent, and I think it was at that moment that I realized I wanted to be a teacher of something, and eventually I wanted to be a Ph.D. as well,” said Hughes, Instructor and Interim Chair in French.
When he is not teaching sections of French 300 and French 420 or fulfilling his role as Interim Chair in French, Hughes, the newly elected head of the World Language Department, is pursuing his love of learning through other avenues.
For the past five years, Hughes has been working towards his Ph.D. while juggling a full-time job. After defending his 220 page dissertation, Hughes will be awarded a Ph.D. in 16th-century French literature, specifically the works of Hélisenne de Crenne, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC). Although the actual Ph.D. will not be awarded to him until August, the UNC committee approved his dissertation last week.
According to Hughes, his unconventional path to a Ph.D. took him all over the globe.
“I was a teacher at 21 [years old] at a public school,” said Hughes. “I went to France for a few years after undergrad to do a couple other degrees there. Then I came back and taught at a public high school in Charleston, South Carolina for four years, and then I decided to go back to graduate school. I’ve been technically enrolled at UNC for a while, but I’ve been writing [a dissertation] part-time, as I’ve been doing full-time jobs since 2009.”
Hughes said that while he studied French at Wofford College, his true love of French blossomed during the years when he lived in France.
“I’m from kind of the Northwest corner of upstate South Carolina in the mountains in a small town. I went [to France] for the first time right before my 21st birthday. It was great to just be in a different culture. My French was shaky when I first got there, so that really got a lot better very quickly. It was really a life-changing experience,” said Hughes.
Though teaching French is “like getting paid to be a stand-up comedian” for Hughes, he values the intellectual interaction with his students more and brings his personal experience into the classroom.
“Earlier on, I was always the very vocal kid in class, but I was afraid to make mistakes in French. One day I realized, ‘This is like playing a part in a play or in a performance of some sort,’” said Hughes. “I encourage even my more timid students to realize, ‘Hey, you can make fun of my accent. You can make fun of what I’m doing.’ So I think [the best part of teaching is] just seeing that light bulb go on, the eureka moment when the student really gets it.”
Teaching at Andover, however, was an unexpected opportunity for Hughes. “I found Andover on the Modern Language Association’s job-list website. I was working at Allegheny College, and I was in a one-year position, and Andover was the only high school on the list,” said Hughes. “I knew I was interested [in the job] because it allowed me to do really high-level academics and teaching, but also to coach and to work with young people, which is what I’ve been doing all my life. This seemed like the best of both worlds for me.”
Hughes is involved in a variety of different activities on campus, including coaching JV Football and JV2 Girls Basketball, house counseling in Tucker House and helping French Club. On Tuesday nights, Hughes can be seen at the French table in Paresky Commons, conversing with native speakers and novices alike.
Despite his active schedule, Hughes still finds time for his passion for reading at Andover. Especially interested in historical biographies and nonfiction, he is currently making his way through biographies of each United States president in order.
“You can bring [the biographies] into the cultural perspectives of the class.… If a student is having trouble understanding something about the history of France or of a French-speaking country, then I can say, ‘Well, this is just like what happened in America at this time,” said Hughes.
Though he is only in his second year at Andover, Hughes is content with his life here.
“It took me about 15 years to find my perfect job. It’s a really good fit where I can coach and teach and be a house counselor and do all these things,” he said.