CHATHAM — Take charge of your life, have new experiences and make things happen, the new president of the Hargrave Military Academy told around 150 cadets on Wednesday afternoon.
Eric Peterson kicked off another school year with a speech at the convocation inside Hargrave Chapel.
“Go out and do things,” Peterson, 56, said. “Don’t sit around waiting for something interesting to appear.”
To illustrate his point, Peterson regaled the cadets with an impressive list of his accomplishments and life experiences.
“Along the way, I’ve had the chance to do and accomplish some interesting things,” he said. “I’ve published my writing in magazines, dived with sharks, written a book, bungee jumped, started a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for military children.”
His eclectic list of adventures also included climbing Austria’s highest mountain (Grossglockner) twice and sailing the high seas, as well as a variety of hobbies, activities and skills.
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“I write poetry and I can fly a plane,” he added. “I know how to paint, change a tire and I’m a pretty good shooter.”
He’s also an expert skier and “a mediocre golfer,” he said.
“I qualified and competed as a member of the United States Bobsled Team,” Peterson said. “I ran five marathons and four triathlons, all quite slowly.”
Peterson, who grew up in California and attended an all-boys boarding school in the Northeast during his middle and high school years, stressed he wasn’t bragging, but emphasizing a lesson: experience life.
“I promise you that even the worst real-life experience is always better than the best video game, and I love video games,” he said. “Get out and shake things up. Take a chance, try something new. Gather your courage and go for it. You will be surprised at the adventures you will have.”
An all-boys boarding school founded in 1909, Hargrave’s mission is “to develop young men into leaders of character prepared for lifelong success.” The school includes grades seven through twelfth.
During his speech, Peterson broke down the elements of the school’s mission statement to explain what cadets can expect from Hargrave.
“First, pay attention to the verb behind the statement – ‘build,'” he said. “It doesn’t say find, or discover, or reveal, or any number of options. It says ‘build’, which suggests a process of building or creating. In other words, you’re not supposed to arriving here fully trained or instead, your experience here in Hargrave will shape and add to your skills and abilities, creating and developing in you the qualities you will need both while you are here and for the rest of your life.
Regarding the last part of the mission statement, “we are not just preparing you for the short term, not just for college or early adulthood. Instead, we are looking to prepare for lifelong success,” Peterson said.
During adolescence, he told the cadets, the span of a lifetime can seem “an incredibly distant horizon”. However, life is going much faster than expected, he said.
Peterson went on to describe what a character leader should be: someone who is dedicated to serving those around them.
“He puts their needs above his own and is willing to make the right decision, even if it’s unpopular,” Peterson said.
This person also conducts himself with integrity and does the right thing, even if it comes at a personal cost, he said.
“He acts with honesty and sensitivity to the situation, and isn’t afraid to apologize when he’s wrong,” he said. “He understands that kindness is not weakness and cruelty is not strength. He defends the weak and does not tolerate a tyrant, whose true cowardice he always sees.”
Hargrave Academic Dean Jim Tung told the cadets the story of the Apollo 13 mission as an example of challenges overcome and overcome. He alluded to the challenges of the pandemic over the past two and a half years and “how schools and students are in the midst of a crisis”.
“Hargrave’s men have weathered the crisis of two world wars, the Cold War, foreign policing that threatened to tear a generation apart, an era of civil rights struggles and periods of economic boom and bust,” he said. said Tung during his speech. “You will lead yourselves, each other, your families and this country to its finest hour.”
Tung also told the cadets how often their academic results will be reported to their parents and what pressures they can expect to face at school.
“Like so many real and worthy achievements, there will be times when the pressure will be immense, like an opportunity to hit or miss the winning shot,” Tung said. “But there will also be literally hundreds of opportunities to build and execute a plan where the relentless pursuit of excellence means the outcome of the game is beyond doubt.”
As for Peterson, he attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he played football and led the ski patrol. After a short stint as a teacher and coach, he went to law school at Northwestern University in Chicago. He practiced law at a large Boston firm, but such a career was not for him.
“I hated practicing law,” he told students. “It was difficult, but overwhelming for me, and I soon returned to working in the schools, where I have thrived for the past 30 years.”
He has worked as a teacher, coach, counselor, dorm leader, dean, division head, vice principal, and principal/president at other schools. His past stints include those at St. George’s School in Rhode Island; Forsyth Country Day School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh; and Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts.
Peterson, who replaced acting chairman Sloan Gibson in June, said he chose Hargrave because it caught his eye and appealed to him.
“I was really taken with the school and felt really good about it,” Peterson said in an interview after the call-up.
Hargrave is a college-preparatory program with a military build, he said. His training focuses on leadership and personal responsibility, Peterson said.
“It simplifies the landscape…in such a complicated, nuanced and tangled world, it simplifies things,” he said.
Peterson touted Hargrave’s programs, including its joint aeronautics program with Averett University allowing students to pursue their pilot’s license and earn dual credit with both schools.
“I’m really excited about Hargrave’s future,” he said.