Sean Morrissey ’16 directs Coast Guard duty toward a law career
Desire to serve started as Orientation Leader at St. Mike's, where liberal arts, mentors helped him plunge into crucial life lessons
From Saint Michael’s to the Coast Guard and now Suffolk Law School, Sean Morrissey ‘16 has always been guided by a strong desire to give back to his community. After spending nearly three years in the Coast Guard, Morrissey now attends law school with the ultimate goal of becoming a Judge Advocate General (JAG) reserve officer and continuing to serve after departing from his tour prematurely.
Throughout his life, Morrissey has formed the strongest allegiances with the communities that encompass generosity. Remembering his first days in the Coast Guard, he said, “As the new guy, there were a lot of times where a lot of people went out of their way for me who didn’t need to. There’s just this very generous component of it. It’s just service without self, something I really admire about others, but that I don’t necessarily see a lot.”
Before the Coast Guard, Morrissey found this same environment of “service without self” as an Orientation or “O-Leader” for Saint Michael’s, an experience that, in many ways, inspired his vocation to serve. As an incoming first-year, Morrissey said, he felt astounded by the immense sense of belonging that his O-Leaders created for him — a pillar of the Saint Michael’s College experience for him.
“[Moving into college] is such an emotionally hard time for people — it definitely was for me,” he said. “And if [first-years] don’t make it through that last day of orientation where they’re going down the line, saying ‘you’re not alone’… I don’t know who doesn’t come out of that thinking ‘I’m in the right place.’ It was a lightbulb moment for me.”
After this foundational first experience at the College, Morrissey knew he needed to return the favor. For the next three years, he served as an O-Leader, creating the same welcoming environment for the subsequent classes of incoming Purple Knights.
“People are just willing to give themselves for no reason other than that you need help,” he said. “For the people that took a chance on me who had no reason to, I always felt that I had a responsibility to pay that forward.”
Ultimately, this intrinsic responsibility to pay forward the generosity he experienced led Morrissey toward law school. He always had felt a desire to attend law school, but was unsure of the means to do so. However, about a year into his tour, Morrissey learned of a graduate education advancement program offered through the Coast Guard for enlisted members and officers to attend law school.
After inquiring with the lieutenant in charge of the program, Morrissey learned that he was ineligible because he had not yet spent four years in the Coast Guard. However, the desire to attend law school once again had been lit within him.
“I just took the lieutenant’s word for it. I didn’t know the extent of things in terms of waivers yet, which if you know anything about the military, when somebody says ‘no,’ there’s usually a waiver for it — except if you’re colorblind and flat footed — that’s usually a no-go,” he said with a smile.
“And so I started looking elsewhere, and at that point my supervisor basically just told me, ‘Sean, you need to start educating yourself on your benefits,’” he said.
Immediately after receiving this advice, Morrissey started calling law schools and asking to be in contact with veterans. “And I was overwhelmed with how much [the veterans] went out of their way for me. It was really unbelievable. They just told me everything I needed to know,” he said.
However, after taking the LSAT and getting accepted to Suffolk Law School, Morrissey faced a difficult decision. “I had another year on my tour,” he said. “Usually you do three years on a boat, and I only did two and a half — and that was really hard for me, to leave my guys at that time. I reported to that boat in February 2020, and Boston shut down in March. None of us knew if our families were going to be okay. We were all we had. It’s very difficult to leave those types of bonds behind.”
Yet after a conversation with a fellow Coast Guardsman on his boat, Morrissey made the difficult decision to leave. “He was like, ‘listen, any of us would kill to be in your shoes, right?’ And that kind of snapped me out of it,” Morrissey said.
“You make pennies on the dollar in the military, so you don’t do it for the money. The people who serve have no reason to, except for the love of country,” Morrissey said. “Those people deserve everything from us, all of our gratitude, because they are doing the work every single day no matter what. I went to law school for those people.”
Still following his vocation to pay forward the generosity that he receives, Morrissey hopes to use his law degree to become a JAG reserves officer, which is a lawyer who helps active Coast Guardsmen with any legal troubles they may face. “The aspirations of my young self to find a boat and go back to active duty might be gone, because my family is my first priority right now,” he said. “But I’ll be happy with the JAG program because I’ll still be serving my people.”
Morrissey credits much of his mission in life to Saint Michael’s College. “St. Mike’s was that place that taught me you have to find dignity in what you do. And I try to live up to that.”
“It goes back to Shakespeare, ‘To thine own self be true’” Morrissey said, remembering one of his favorite classes with the now-retired Professor Nick Clary. “You have to find something that shows other people dignity, that shows your self-respect, and that also shows respect to your abilities.”
“The value of a liberal arts education is self-evident. There are hard lessons to learn about life, and St. Mike’s lets you plunge in as far as you’re willing to go to figure those out,” Morrissey said. “It’s kind of like being a toddler, hanging around a swing set or a jungle gym. You could have somebody there to catch you at every second, but really the best lesson that you’re going to learn is when you fall and get back up again.”