Introducing our Resident Scholar: Pat O'Neal

My name is Patrick O'Neal. I am a 32 year old disabled veteran. I come from what most would consider humble beginnings. After high school I wasn't able to successfully attend college. Substance abuse and domestic violence had permeated my home. I was forced to get a job and live out of my car until I saved up enough money to get an apartment.


It was at this time that I began to work full time in telecommunications, and I excelled. I quickly became the best salesperson in the 14 store market and was promoted to lead sales associate and eventually to store manager. I took over a struggling location and in a single month took it from the bottom ranked location to the second best location in the market. After sustained success as a store manager, I was promoted again, this time to upper-management as the market trainer. I had taken control over my life and escaped a toxic environment. At 22 years old, I was making more money than I ever dreamed of.

In 2007, while working in sales, my best friend was nearly killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Afghanistan. I decided to leave a successful and promising career and joined the Navy. I chose to join the most onerous and dangerous career field - Explosive Ordnance Disposal, as IEDs were killing and injuring more troops than anything else in the war. I spent six years in the highly selective naval special operations community. I loved the career field because it demanded that I grow and develop at an exponential rate.

I served in the Navy for six years until a helicopter mishap led to the unexpected end of my military career. I wanted to continue serving, so I chose not to seek immediate medical treatment, only getting help months after the accident because the physical, mental, and emotional pain I was experiencing led me to contemplate suicide. It quickly became apparent that the injuries I suffered were far more severe than I thought. I had dislocated my left hip, both ankles, left shoulder, crushed my spine in multiple places, suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To make matters worse, I was separated from the military before I received treatment and rehabilitation for my injuries.

Over the next two years, I would undergo reconstructive shoulder, ankle, sinus, and hip surgery. I also had to undergo treatment for my TBI, PTSD, and numerous spinal injuries. I was in a wheelchair and couldn't perform even the simplest task on my own, like bathing or going to the bathroom. I focused on healing one day at a time, celebrating small milestones each day. I worked my way from my wheelchair, to crutches, then a cane, and three months later I was walking on my own.

I decided that I was going to apply the same work ethic I put into my recovery and military career into a new academic journey. I took on the daunting task of going back to school after a ten-year hiatus, with a learning disability, physical disabilities,

and mental and emotional disabilities. Despite all of these challenges, I succeeded in performing at the top of my class and transferred to Cornell University in the Fall semester of 2017.

The core values of the United States Navy are honor, courage, and commitment. I have lived my life honorably by doing the right thing when no one is looking, with great courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and commitment to achieve the task at hand. I have been blessed to be a part of a community with values that push me to be the greatest version of myself. I want to instill the values I have learned to this community of high achieving men fostering the balanced man principles of Sigma Phi Epsilon.