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Colleen Flynn's determination born of tragedy

Colleen Flynn at Commack High School in Commack,

Colleen Flynn at Commack High School in Commack, June 3, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Colleen Flynn has a dream and a dream school, and she's not giving up on either one.

Flynn was accepted at 17 high-ranking colleges but not her top choice -- the University of Pennsylvania. Undeterred, she turned down all 17 offers and plans to reapply to UPenn after studying at Suffolk County Community College for six months.

"It's about the right fit," said Flynn, one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors. "I'm very stubborn and I'm also very frugal, so I don't want to invest in a college where I know I'm not going to be happy and it's going to be too much of a financial burden for my family and myself."

Flynn's determination was born of tragedy. When she was 13, her mother, Maureen, was diagnosed with triple negative inflammatory breast cancer and later died. Accompanying her mother to Boston for clinical trials, Flynn, a resident of Commack, became fascinated by science but also inspired by young cancer patients.

The hospital "fostered my passion for research and science and helping others," she said. "I feel like I really can empathize with kids who have cancer because I saw my mom unfortunately deteriorate before my eyes."

Flynn, 17, has worked with other students on genetics research, studying the correlation between diabetes and cancer. She also conducted research that led to the creation of a thermometer that produces more accurate readings.

But last summer, after earning one of 220 nationwide spots for a paid business internship at a nonprofit, Flynn realized there's "more to life than a lab." Her dream is to be a pediatric oncologist with her own international health clinic and run her own not-for-profit.

"I want to combine my passion for science and research and my love for languages and business," she said. "I want to travel and help people who don't necessarily have the luxuries that I have."


Flynn will attend Suffolk County Community College and apply to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. She would like to be a public health major.


"I'm looking forward to figuring out who I want to be and who I want to surround myself with. I want to expand my horizons. . . I definitely want to study abroad."


"Even when things get really tough, I'm one of those people who try to remain positive and bounce back. I like to think of myself as resilient."

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