A Life Of 'aspirando et perseverando' Pays off
"The second I got to Avon, I felt accepted; I was one of many; I could just be me."
We’ve heard similar sentiments from Avon alumni and current students many times before, but for Patrick Sheridan ’04, that feeling of comfort was life-changing. As an adolescent trying to find a way through school with dyslexia, feeling accepted equaled an opportunity to succeed.
“I was from an affluent town in northern New Jersey which had one of the best public schools available,” he began. “And I’m an outgoing, personable, athletic guy. So, when my grades weren’t good, everyone just assumed that I didn’t care about academics. But nothing could have been further from the truth.”
Understandably, Sheridan felt stuck— fear became anger. And that anger began to show. So, his parents realized that a change was in order, and the idea of boarding school came up.
“My sister was an amazing hockey player, but women’s hockey wasn’t great in New Jersey so she was going to school at Taft,” he said. “I went to Canterbury for a year, but still felt alone and struggling. Then, when we were in the area for one of my sister’s games, we paid a visit to Avon. I applied. I got in. From the jump, Avon worked for me.”
Sheridan recalls that it was in part Kevin Driscoll ’72, P’08 who helped him through the admissions process, and then stood by his side as a comforting figure throughout his years at Avon.
“Kevin Driscoll was my football coach, and I had a great experience through the team, but our relationship went beyond the lines on the field—he was a reassuring presence,” explained Sheridan. “His door was always open, and while he didn’t have to say much, I always got the sense that he was supporting me. He was a guy I just wanted to be around. I looked up to him.”
Sheridan continued to explain that the most significant thing Avon did for him was provide supportive faculty and resources to aid him on his path to success.
“I didn’t do well with idle time, so Avon’s structured environment was step one in guiding me through my academics,” he said. “But then, I also had Coach Doyle coming through the dorm during study hall asking if I needed help—yes, I did. And I had Mr. Mackey one floor down always willing to sit with me and offer help when I struggled to get through my English work. I didn’t want to be a C student; I wanted to be a B student. And they helped me make that happen.”
As a previously recognized outstanding athlete who made every team he ever tried out for, Sheridan got the shock of his life when he was cut from Coach Gardner’s Varsity Hockey team.
“I had faced plenty of adversity elsewhere in my life, but I was floored when I heard that I hadn’t made the team. I had always been the best player around … I even played against Avon when I was on Canterbury’s hockey team. If I hadn’t loved everything about Avon so much, being cut might have been enough to get me to quit. But it was just another lesson Avon taught me: keep working hard, even when it doesn’t go right the first time.”
So he didn’t quit. For his junior and senior years, Sheridan stuck with it and thrived at Avon. Unlike his other schools, he says Avon was full of people who wanted to support him, not out-do him, and that made all the difference.
“That’s the amazing thing: I was only at Avon for two years, and it changed my life.”
Sheridan graduated and went on to Union College where he played Division III football and finished a liberal arts degree in four years. He says that wouldn’t have been possible if not for his time at Avon.
“Who knows what would have happened if I stayed at public school,” he said. “For 15 years, society had been telling me I wasn’t good enough. My only goal was to finish college in four years. I would tell myself, All I have to do is graduate. That will show everyone. And I did. Then I had to figure out what came next.”
Sheridan knew he had strong personal and leadership skills, but getting into a position where those were valued often required getting past an entry-level job where assumed-to-be easy tasks proved challenging for someone living with dyslexia.
“I thought about going into finance like my father, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get past the Series 7 … I thought about going to a sports agency, but who would hire the intern who couldn’t spell?”
Eventually, he created a business plan to present to his father. Sheridan wanted to combine his two interests: running a restaurant as his grandfather had done, and being a businessman like his father. The answer, he thought, was in a restaurant franchise.
“I ended up cold-calling a lot of established companies, and worked in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a year running a 10-store franchise,” he explained. “Then, in short, we landed a conversation with the Murrell family, as in the Five Guys Murrell family. I had liked the brand since I first encountered it during my college years, and everything worked out. We now have a six-store market.”
Sheridan and his father have been successful and are looking to continue to grow their franchise.
“Things can always be better, but we’re doing well. I feel like I’ve made it. I love my job, I have a lovely wife, and two sons,” he shared. “I’m still hungry - I’ll always be hungry, but I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I credit Avon for helping me to get here. Avon was the place that showed me I could succeed.”
Sheridan returned to Avon for his five-year reunion, but hasn’t made it back to campus since. This spring, however, will be different.
“I make it out to the regional events Avon hosts in New York City, but this year I want to come back to Avon,” he said. “The last time I was there, I was in a different place in my life and I don’t think I gave it a chance to let everything soak in. Now, my life is full. And Avon is a part of that.”
The 2019 Reunion Weekend will take place May 17 - 19 at Avon Old Farms School, and registration is available online at www.avonoldfarms.com/reunion. We hope all the reunion classes make the trip back for what is sure to be a memorable weekend.