NARRATOR: Eric Greitens was a Rhodes scholar who earned his PhD at Oxford. He served around the world as a humanitarian aid worker. And he is also a decorated Navy SEAL, who saw action during four deployments to war zones.
Today, Eric runs The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps wounded and disabled veterans begin careers as citizen leaders. Eric is a living embodiment of the university's mission of positive social change.
ERIC GREITENS: And I want to share with you a couple lessons from my early work doing humanitarian work overseas that really informed for me how I try to drive positive social change in the work that I do today. This is a photograph that you're looking at of Bosnian refugees, survivors of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, who have just stepped off the bus into the [? Goshen ?] [? Sea ?] refugee camp in Croatia.
The folks who you are looking at here, at the moment that I took this photograph, they have lost every material possession they ever owned. And what's more, in addition to having lost every material possession they ever owned, many of them had lost friends and had lost family. They had to live and work in an incredibly difficult environment.
But it was actually here, in the refugee camps in Croatia, that I learned what it really means to create hope. Now we live in a culture where we sometimes get some very simplistic advice about hope. People will say, well, you can go out and you got to find your hope, right? As if it might be somewhere in your room along with the keys that you misplaced.
The fact is, hope is something that we create through the actions that we take. The woman who you're looking at here was herself a refugee, herself a survivor of the ethnic cleansing. And what she decided to do in the refugee camp was that she got together with a group of women in the camp and they decided that they were going to take care of families who had even less than they did. And it was through service in the camp that they started to rebuild their lives.
We know in all of our communities how difficult it is to provide a quality education for our children. Imagine what it's like in a refugee camp. There is no classroom. There is no budget. There is no curriculum. There are no professionals.
But what I saw what happened in the refugee camp was that they had some really extraordinary leaders who came out and they said, we're going to make sure that every single child in the camp is able to continue their education. And what happened was that that community came together around that common sense of social purpose.
And what I've learned from doing this kind of work is that when people have lived through tragedy, what matters most-- what matters most is not what they are given, but what they do. So one of the essential lessons that we use now in the work that we do with wounded and disabled veterans-- we have to help people who have lived through tragedy. We have to help them to find a way to serve again.
And for all of us here who are pursuing higher education for a higher purpose, we know that we have the potential to be of service ourselves and to inspire others to be of service in our communities. I'll share just a couple of other quick stories with you.
This is Michael Paul. Michael Paul is an Army veteran. He served in a long-range reconnaissance platoon. Michael Paul is now a paraplegic. And he is also an incredible athlete. Through The Mission Continues, we paid for him to do a fellowship where he became a certified downhill skiing instructor. He now works at Paralyzed Veterans for America. We helped him apply for his education benefits, and he went back to school and he got his master's degree in human services. And Michael Paul is continuing to serve.
[? Sonia ?] [? Manasses, ?] an Army sergeant was serving in Iraq when her convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. [? Sonia ?] has now lost 100% of her hearing in both ears. Now imagine for a moment how difficult it would be if one day you could no longer hear as an adult. And you're sent home and you have to rebuild your life. It's an incredibly difficult challenge.
But what [? Sonia ?] said was, she said that actually wasn't the hardest part. She said the hardest part was that she lost her sense of purpose. [? Sonia ?] was a sergeant in the United States Army. She had troops to run, missions to conduct, operations to execute. And now she's not only lost her hearing, but that whole sense of purpose in team and service has also been taken from her. And she said, that was the hardest part.
When [? Sonia ?] came home, she spent about two years in and around her house. When we came to her through The Mission Continues we asked her, [? Sonia, ?] how do you want to serve again? She told us that she'd always loved kids. And that she'd thought before that maybe one day after she left the Army she might become a pediatric nurse. But she didn't have any formal experience working with kids in different programs.
So what we did is we set up a fellowship for [? Sonia ?] with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Clarksville, Tennessee. And [? Sonia ?] not only became a Big Sister, but she also helped them to run a summer camp program. Now as many of you know, a lot of the kids from Big Brothers Big Sisters, they come from difficult backgrounds. And they loved having [? Sonia ?] at Big Brothers Big Sisters, because she would look at every single one of those kids and she would say to them, you have no excuse. I believe in you, absolutely, and I know what you are capable of becoming. [? Sonia, ?] today, is on her way to becoming a pediatric nurse.
What I've learned in all of this work and the work that we're doing with wounded and disabled veterans, and the work that we did with refugees, and the work that we've done with street children, what I've learned in all of this is that every single one of us who is here in this room has an incredible potential to create hope in the lives of others. If we live with courage, and we set that kind of example, every one of us-- no matter the difficulties that we're facing, no matter the fears that we're facing-- every person in this room has the potential to be an agent of positive social change.
I am honored to be with all of you today. I wish you tremendous luck in your journey. Thank you very much.