A&S Class of '24: Sean Michael Flattery leaves the stage, returns to school to pursue his next dream

A&S Class of '24 graduating student, Sean Michael Flattery, philosophy major.

Sean Michael Flattery was offered his first paid acting contract midway through his senior year of high school, and he had a decision to make. Acting was his passion — with his family’s blessing, he petitioned a judge a year earlier for his emancipation to move into a cousin’s basement and stay in Staunton, Virginia after his parents moved to a smaller town with no theater — but the acting commitment would conflict with his school schedule.

After sharing his goals and career plans with his high school principal, Flattery accepted the contract offered by a local theater company, completed his GED and spent the next 15 years pursuing that dream. He performed in and crewed for regional productions across the United States and Canada, including stops at the Off-Broadway Town Hall Theatre before pausing to consider a different path. Three years ago, his life plan shifted to envisioning a career in law.

Now 36, after completing his associate degree at Virginia Highlands Community College and two years of undergraduate study at the University of Virginia, Flattery is set to walk down the Lawn next month and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The next phase of his plan includes applying to law school.

“When I was starting to think about going back to school, someone told me something really smart. They said, ‘In four years, you can be either be 37 years old and not have a bachelor’s degree, or you can be 37 and have that bachelor’s degree. Time keeps moving no matter what,’” said Flattery, who consistently earned Dean’s List honors in UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences. “You can’t get caught up in doubting yourself.”

The son of a Cuban mother and Irish-American father, Flattery jokingly calls himself an “elder Millennial,” adding that his classmates and professors do not bring attention to the age gap between him and most of the other students on Grounds.

“I was never made to feel different from anyone else in class,” he said. “I’ll admit, I would sometimes laugh in my seat when a professor would say, ‘You guys don’t remember this, you’re too young.’”

Flattery’s coursework at UVA, has focused on issues of inequality and inequity. In addition to his coursework, he volunteered locally with Habitat for Humanity and worked with Charlottesville’s Sexual Assault Resource Agency, where his fiancée manages the prevention team, on a project to engage more men as allies to prevent gender-based violence. His philosophy major and liberal arts education have provided a solid foundation for the type of legal work he hopes to pursue in the future, Flattery said.

“I think if you want to do work that impacts human lives, on any scale, you have to be able to understand people. Studying the humanities helps you understand the underlying issues and context that we all grapple with,” Flattery said. “You can’t step in and try to help people without appreciating their experience and perspective.”

His parents are coming to Charlottesville next month for Final Exercises. Flattery is looking forward to celebrating that milestone achievement of graduating with them, before focusing on the next one: admittance to law school. Because time keeps moving.


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