Alum Spotlight: Tom Flynn

Have more than one career path in mind? It turns out you don’t have to choose!
As a liberal arts university, JMU provides students with exposure to so many different areas of study and career paths. Often times it is difficult for students to choose a specific field to go into (ever declared “Undecided” as your major?). Then, when graduation jumps out from around the corner, students convince themselves that whatever their major is, they must go in that direction. Sometimes, this is only partly true.
Tom Flynn is a class of ’89 JMU alum who is a perfect example of how choosing one career path isn’t always mandatory. Tom graduated with a degree in finance, which ended up being very useful to him in several ways. He recalls memories of “trying to make my way through Dr. Carl Weaver’s thick southern accent in an 8AM finance class in Burruss Hall”, and having business law with Dr. Hamilton who “spoke in terms the students could relate to on material that could get pretty esoteric”.  These professors and the finance courses that Tom took for his undergraduate degree ended up helping him to find a full-time job. Following graduation, Tom moved to Baltimore where he used his degree from JMU to help him get started in banking (even though he graduated into a recession). Tom has held several finance-related positions over the past twenty-five years, and he currently works as a Project Implementation Consultant for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
There is another side to Tom’s career, however, which all began through some history courses he took while completing his degree. Tom recalls his interaction with a graduate assistant in one of these classes, David Crossett, who had a major effect on his desire to write:
“As a finance major I was enjoying my history classes as a respite from the numbers, but didn’t really think about my writing. One day, and he didn’t know who I was at the time, Crossett started reciting one of my essay answers chapter-and-verse as the correct response to a test question, which of course caught my attention. It was a light bulb going off that my writing could stand out.”
Over the years, Tom has made a supplemental career out of his love for writing. He has contributed to news sources including the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Denver Post. Additionally, in 2010 Tom published the historical fiction novel, Venable Park. This critically celebrated novel provides a rare look at the 1920’s in Prohibition Baltimore, through the eyes of a returned WWI veteran trying to get back into the swing of civilian life. As he attempts to return to reality, this character finds himself encountering events at a football stadium (at Venable Park) which threaten to throw him back into the misery that he encountered during the war. Tom’s novel has been praised critically by sources including Kirkus Reviews, Post Road Magazine, Seven Stories Press, and Urbanite Magazine.
While producing his writing materials, Tom has gained a lot of insight on how to improve his writing skills. For those who would like to pursue writing, he offers this advice:
“… Twitter and texting, etc., have students writing more than they ever have, but too much of either isn’t doing a lot for your writing. Even if it’s informal, it’ll seep into your formal/professional writing, like it or not. Going the other way, I would say sticking to really solid news sources for online content is important. You’ll pick up the writing mannerism of good content online if you read enough of it. 
Also, I’ve found a great technique for writing a good essay is to write long and trim back. In college, at least when I was at JMU, I heard ‘1,000 word essay’ and just set that as my bar. You’re better off once out of school overwriting and trimming back. It’ll also make you a better self-editor, which is really critical.”
Tom also knows that this time of year can be very difficult for students when it comes to getting work done. As the spring season approaches in full force, he recognizes the urge to be outside at all times possible:
 “You knew spring was here when the sun drifted down and it got cooler, but some warmth stayed in the air and suddenly everyone was lingering outside and just happy to be at Madison. I lived on Campbell Street my senior year and we barbecued every night in the yard from March 1 through graduation, just to be outside.”

Tom has a son who will be graduating from JMU in May with a degree in International Business and a German minor. To his son and all of the other seniors who will be graduating in a little shy of a month, he offers this encouragement: “…coming out of Madison you have the degree and the skills to distinguish yourself and then it’s simply doing the work to set yourself apart from your co-workers. There’s no substitute for it in any economy.”
Tom Flynn provides an exceptional example of how students should allow themselves to broaden their career interests, through considering multiple opportunities. Just because you graduate with a certain degree does not mean you are in any way limited. You career path does not have to be linear; you can decide to make it as complex as you would like!

Tom (left) with his father on the Quad, May 1989

To learn more about Tom Flynn or his novel, Venable Park, contact him at or check
Written by Kelly Gooch

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