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Greg Behrman P '31, '33: Sparking a Culture of Service

As a Princeton graduate, Greg Behrman P ’31, ’33 joined Goldman Sachs, headed toward a career in finance. He didn’t imagine that one day he would be stationed in Afghanistan as a Strategic Advisor, Commander ISAF in the United States Navy, sitting in the company of Gen. David Petraus. Speaking to the Upper School students one day after Veterans Day, Behrman shared his journey — a record of his ongoing dedication to finding ways in which he can serve others.

Finding that a life in finance was not quite fulfilling, Behrman went back to school for a degree in international relations seeking a change.

“When I was [in graduate school] two things happened: I reconnected with the issues that I really love, and I got to read about history and all sorts of things that really matter to me,” he said. He’d imagined a few decades of work in the international relations space when the unexpected passing of his father turned his world upside down again. He wasn’t sure where to go, and began to seek new ways to “get back into the world.”

He thought about it and decided, “Let me try to do something that can give meaning to the legacy of my dad and can be a contribution in some shape or form.”

Within him was sparked a burning desire to lead a life of public service. He penned a book about the US response to the global AIDS pandemic — donating the proceeds to an organization in South Africa; then a book about the Marshall Plan; he joined the State Department during President Barack Obama’s the first few years in office; and eventually got a commission in the United States Navy, which included a year-long deployment in Afghanistan  serving under Petreus and Gen. John Allen.

“One of the privileges of that was getting to see strategic command up close,” he reflected. More significantly to him was the opportunity to be a part of a “pure form of service,” as a member of a dedicated team.

“They were there because they believed in their country, they believed the mission, and they believed in serving each other.” Behrman said. In dedicating himself to being an exemplary teammate, he explained, “The more I felt like it was closer to the center of who I was.”

The experience inspired him to continue a life of service, leading him to found NationSwell, “a social impact company dedicated to helping change-makers tackle our world’s most urgent challenges.” Behrman was responding to what he saw as a deficit of the culture of service.

“We wanted to have a culture of service. ... to be a part of something bigger and make sure that we existed to hold each other up and to help each other be our best … with the broader aspirations that maybe through our work, that ethos and that culture can ripple out to our broader society and our culture,” he said. “We are part of a whole, we exist for each other, and we’re called on to lift each other up and to help make people’s lives better not just our own.”

To hear more about Behrman’s story, click on the image below. (And stick around until the end for a special performance by his daughter.)