Alumni Spotlight on Jay Huffman '94: Leading from the Front

Kathy Smith
Jay Huffman graduated from Shipley in June of 1994 and quickly faced a reality for which few can adequately prepare.
“Beast Barracks,” says Huffman, “also known as West Point cadet basic training, starts in June.” The indoctrination into the West Point culture is immediate and complete. “They walk you into the gymnasium and give you a schpiel. Your parents have one minute to say goodbye. In 15 minutes, your summer is over, and they’re shaving your head. Welcome to West Point.”
Over the following six weeks, Huffman learned how to be a cadet. He marched. He did sit ups. He learned to shoot a rifle. “Anyone who tells you that plebe year is fun is lying to you,” he says of his experience. “It’s a shared misery, but it’s an experience I would never turn down.”
The Genesis of the Idea
Long before Huffman ever walked into the United States Military Academy at West Point, before Huffman even thought of joining the military, he went on a Shipley class field trip that would prove to be seminal.
“Mr. Driscoll was my seventh grade history teacher,” Huffman recalls. “He took us to a Civil War battle field. He went through the history, what the South did, what the North did.” Apparently, Mr. Driscoll did what so many Shipley teachers do—he took it one step further. “He dressed in Civil War clothes. He had his musket. He had the backpack.”
That field trip piqued Huffman’s interest in the military and provoked an avid interest in reading military history that would one day evolve into something much bigger than a pastime.
Arresting Ships
Huffman completed his education at West Point and served for over five-and-a-half years in the First Calvary Division in Texas before entering law school. He is now a Partner with Royston Rayzsor, Vickery & Williams, LLP in Houston, Texas, specializing in the litigation of civil cases in both state and federal courts involving disputes within the areas of admiralty and maritime law. He was selected as a Texas Super Lawyer in 2014 and a Texas Rising Star from 2012-2014 in the field of maritime law.
“I represent foreign ships that come in and out of the port of Houston and Galveston, the largest port in the U.S.,” he explains. “I’m interacting with the U.S. Coast Guard, the EPA, and the Department of Homeland Security.”
Huffman finds the practice fascinating, as no one case is like another. “One day I could have a personal injury case and the next day I could have an oil pollution matter, so I have to have an understanding of environmental law, personal injury law, and international MARPOL requirements, and sometimes I have to know a little criminal law, depending upon what caused the pollution. I enjoy the myriad different claims that come in.”
Enduring Lessons
Huffman credits his experience at Shipley with instilling the skills for future success both at West Point and in his career. “I had to manage my time to do well at Shipley,” he says. “Shipley requires you to take so many disciplines. The coursework was hard and so varied that it made some of the academics at West Point easier to deal with. I felt a little bit better prepared than some of my peers [who didn't attend Shipley].”
Shipley’s focus on the individual played a role in preparing Huffman for West Point, where each cadet is evaluated not just on academics, but also on athletics and character. “At West Point,” says Huffman, “you have to have intelligence and physical ability and military discipline. You’ve got to be balanced across the board.” Huffman played on Shipley’s varsity soccer and tennis teams, captaining the tennis team in his senior year. He was also co-editor of the yearbook. But Huffman learned perhaps the most valuable lesson through Shipley’s community service program.
Leading from the Front
“We went downtown into Philadelphia and helped at a soup kitchen,” said Huffman. “It was so eye-opening to see those in need and to realize that something as simple as your time could make such a huge difference. The reward for me was just a smile and a thank you.” Huffman carried that lesson with him through West Point and into service.
“Sure, my soldiers appreciated the medals and the ribbons, but it was the thank you, the appreciation, and that you were there with them that made the impact. You lead from the front,” he explained. “I never asked any of my soldiers to do anything I wouldn’t do first. That’s something community service taught me. The reward of just giving a little bit of your time is worth its weight in gold.”
The Time of Need
Like so many others, Huffman describes Shipley as an extended family. Both his sister, Laura Huffman Hayes ’96 and brother Daniel Raps-Huffman ’13 graduated from Shipley, and his father Ken Huffman remains on the Board. But there’s another, personal reason as well. “My mom suffered a stroke in the first or second week of my senior year and was seriously disabled on her right side. It was a tough time. And Chris Wagner, Dr. Piltch, and Shipley helped out. We were in need, and they were always there to help. They were like a family.”
Going Back
Recently, Huffman hosted his class’s 20th reunion party at his dad's house. During Alumni Weekend, he toured the new facilities and had the opportunity to look at the plans for the development of the Student Commons and Arts Center. “When I go back,” he says, “it’s like going and seeing an old friend.”
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.