A Life of Service

A Duke graduate will share his experiences as a humanitarian worker, documentary photographer and U.S. Navy SEAL

Eric Greitens enrolled at Duke in 1992 having rarely traveled outside of his home state of Missouri. Yet Greitens found a path that would take him far beyond anything he'd ever imagined.


During the next 10 years, Greitens graduated from Duke; attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar; worked as a documentary photographer, researcher and volunteer in war zones; and became a U.S. Navy SEAL officer; among other accomplishments.


"I think that I've always tried to live my life as fully as possible," Greitens says. "Duke provided me with a number of incredible role models and mentors. Without them, I am certain my path would have been quite different."


Greitens is the featured speaker for an Oct. 30 program hosted by the Kenan Institute for Ethics. The title of his talk is "The Culture of Character: Building Strength Through Study and Service."

  "My experiences in service have taught me that real commitment requires sacrifice and study," Greitens says.


While at Duke, Greitens was the first student to design his own major in ethics, immersing himself in humanitarian work. He worked with mentors including Bruce Payne, founding director of the Sanford Institute's Hart Leadership Program, and Neil Boothby, formerly of the Sanford Institute. Greitens was arrested in China for speaking out about human rights the summer after his freshman year. The next two summers, Greitens worked with children affected by the ethnic cleansing and genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.


Greitens graduated in 1996 and set off for Oxford, during which time he continued his work as a humanitarian volunteer, documentary photographer and researcher in countries around the world.


Later, Greitens says, he realized that while he had argued for military action in humanitarian crises, he had not himself worn a uniform. He joined the Navy SEALs, one of the most elite special operations forces.


Greitens recently returned from Iraq and used his combat pay to start the Center for Citizen Leadership in Washington, D.C. The non-profit gives fellowships to veterans and students for service work.


"It is the responsibility of each of us to remain a constant student of the world," he says. "If we let our knowledge inform our actions, we can contribute to building a better and more beautiful world."