Vets Discuss Leadership

Former senator, non-profit founder, and student weigh in on public service

Unnamed photo
Bora Fezga

Eric Greitens, left, Maura Sullivan, and former U.S. Senator Max Cleland discuss their experiences in the military at a “Leadership through Public Service” panel at the IOP yesterday.

A former senator, a nonprofit founder, and a current Harvard graduate student—all of whom served in the U.S. military—discussed the meaning of leadership and public service in an intimate forum event last night at the Institute of Politics.

The speakers included former Georgia Senator Max Cleland; Eric Greitens, who used his combat pay from Iraq and Afghanistan to start an organization that allows disabled veterans to serve their communities; and Maura C. Sullivan, a Harvard MBA/MPA candidate who served for seven months as a marine in Fallujah, Iraq.

The conversation dealt with the speakers’ combat experiences as well as their desire to serve the nation in other ways. Cleland, who was severely wounded in Vietnam, said he decided to pursue his political aspirations because he was left with few options after the war.

“When I decided to offer myself as a candidate for public office, I really had nowhere else to go,” he said. “No one was going to hire me, no one was giving me any work, so I decided to go ahead and try to fulfill my dreams.”

Sullivan said she is entering the private sector after graduation, but that she hopes to return to government work in the future. She stressed the importance of maintaining a public service mindset even in the business world.

“If there is one thing that my classmates and I have been discussing here, it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, we really need ethical leadership in the private sector,’” she said.

The speakers agreed that today’s youth is particularly enthusiastic about aiding the broader world.

“I’m incredibly hopeful about what this generation can do in terms of public service,” Greitens said.

After their discussion, the speakers responded to questions from the diverse audience, which included undergraduates, graduate students, and many Cambridge residents. One local doctor, who lived in Saigon during the Tet offensive, cried as he thanked Cleland for his service.

After the event, Greitens said he was glad to have the opportunity to encourage students to pursue public service work.

“I hope that what they will take from tonight is the belief that they have something to contribute,” he said.

Christopher J. Hollyday ’11, chair of the IOP Forum Committee, said he thought the talk was extremely important given the modern economic climate.

“I thought the event was really good, in that it addressed leadership and public service and making it happen in this time when people are shifting from traditional fields like finance to public service and government jobs,” he said.

­—Staff writer Evan T. R. Rosenman can be reached at