Dean’s list makes for one more victory over childhood struggles

After SUNY launched a campaign to encourage students to consider community college, FLCC asked Brendan O’Shaughnessy to participate. He writes openly on social media of the childhood struggles he overcame to succeed in his FLCC cybersecurity program. Learn more about his story below.


Brendan O’Shaughnessy recently received a congratulatory letter from Finger Lakes Community College Provost Jonathan Keiser for making the dean’s list in the spring semester.

He double-checked to make sure it was really for him. “I was like, what happened? Who is this person?” he said.

The letter, which indicated that he had earned a grade-point average of 3.8 – the equivalent of an “A” – was an affirmation to Brendan that he has finally found his place and is on track toward achieving a dream that for so many years seemed out of reach.

Brendan struggled to fit in and keep up academically in elementary, middle and high school in suburban Rochester. Diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder at an early age, he needed extra support and was placed in special education programs. He described himself as socially awkward and introverted. Friendships and focus eluded him.

In his junior year, he found a private military school in Virginia where he could spend his senior year. Despite the cost and distance, his parents supported the decision; maybe their son would find his place.

Indeed, the Fishburne Military School provided the structure Brendan needed. He found friends and confidence, and returned to the Rochester area after graduation.

He got his own place and took minimum wage jobs serving coffee and, later, in customer service. “I was OK with it for the first couple years – I was still figuring out adulthood,” he said. “At the end of last year I was getting pretty tired of always making the bare minimum and working for tomorrow instead of next week or next month.”

He’d always been interested in cybersecurity, but college seemed a daunting prospect.With much encouragement from his loved ones, Brendan enrolled at FLCC. He had relocated to Canandaigua; the College’s proximity was matched by the high praise he’d heard about the programs he wanted to study.

“When I first started, I was extremely intimidated, I was very scared,” he said. “I didn’t want to fail.”

He started in the fall of 2019 with 12 credits, or four courses. “I did OK – I made it through,” he said. “And then, for some reason, at the end of that semester, I was like, well, taking 15 credits in the spring semester sounds like a fantastic idea.”

Brendan’s courses were all online, which helped him balance his studies with a full-time job working remotely as an assistant manager for the Maryland-based company Direct Answer. He started just as he was beginning his first semester.  “I love my job,” he said. “Even though I work remotely, I feel like I am part of the company and contributing directly to our success.”

Brendan has left an impression on his teachers at FLCC.  “Knowledge can be acquired. Hands-on skills can be developed. In order to be a successful cybersecurity professional, though, you need to have your own natural passion, which drives you to continuous learning and constant reinvention of yourself,” said Jonathan Weissman, associate professor of computing sciences. “In the spring 2020 semester and currently in the summer 2020 semester, Brendan O’Shaughnessy has shown me great knowledge, hands-on skills, and passion. I look forward to seeing him in future courses.”

Brendan has his sights on a May 2021 graduation. He hopes to work as an ethical hacker or a penetration tester in the field of cybersecurity. His Twitter feed reflects his interest and determination: information technology posts abound, interspersed with reflections on his journey.

On June 14 he posted this sage advice:

If you are interested in college, in furthering your education, no matter if you are 18, 24, or 40, YOU can do it. Enroll in Community College, it’s cheaper and a great way to get started with your degree. You will struggle. It will be hard to balance.
But if you put your determination ahead, I know more will benefit from higher education. I was honestly scared that I would never amount to anything, that I would be a disappointment to everyone in my family. But I turned my life around at 23-24 years old.
You can do it. You just need to take that first step.

Author: Jessica Youngman

Jessica Youngman is the public relations and events coordinator for Community Affairs. Reach her at (585) 785-1221 or Jessica.Youngman@flcc.edu.

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