Being a 'Brat' Prepared Professor for Top Job
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 28, 2006 Mark S. Wrighton was just entering his teen years when the Navy moved his family from Patuxent, Md., to Argentia, Newfoundland.
Naval "military brat" Mark S. Wrighton took what he learned from his youth and succeeded in the academic world. The former chemistry professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently the chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. Photo by Joe Angeles/WUSTL
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the time his father was a flight engineer on an extension of the Distant Early Warning Line. The early 1960s Cuban missile crisis was the news of the day, and working on the DEW line involved flying radar-equipped aircraft over the Atlantic to monitor for potential missile attacks.
"That was a particularly tense time and rather memorable," Wrighton, now chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, recalled during an interview in April's Month of the Military Child.
He said Argentia, located on southeastern Newfoundland's Placentia Bay, provided outdoor activities and even a bit of history - the Atlantic Charter, establishing a vision for post-World War II, was signed there in 1941. He remembered he and his brother playing around a silver mine there.
One more move landed the family in Pensacola, Fla., where his father retired as a master chief petty officer with 24 years of service. Through the five moves Wrighton remembers during his father's career, he said he enjoyed the life of a "military brat."
He said the moving was disruptive, but it was what he and his siblings knew, and it equipped him for a life of change.
Wrighton called moving "a nice adventure." "I have a brother and a sister," he said, "and we were a tight family unit. It was always interesting to move to a new place - a sense of excitement when we did the travel."
As Wrighton struck out into the civilian world, he took with him the lessons learned. Watching his father advance through the ranks taught him the importance of hard work, loyalty and integrity, he said. It also helped him understand that respect for others at all times is essential.
"Now I have a very large responsibility as chancellor of a very large and important university," he said. "I look for those qualities in recruiting people who are going to be a part of the leadership team here."
Washington University in St. Louis claims 12,000 students, an equal number of employees, and 100,000 alumni. Wrighton became the university's chancellor in 1995.
Before that, he was a chemistry professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 23 years. He admitted that staying in one place was unusual after growing up on the move as a military brat. But MIT was a great environment, he said.
"But I would guess it is true that people who have been in the military and moved around do wonder, 'Is this where I'm going to spend the rest of my life?'" he said. He added that he satisfies any wanderlust through his job-related travel commitments.
He credits his youth with the ability to adapt.
"It has prepared me to be resilient ... in my adult life," he said. "The moving and the kind of life we lived, I think, prepared me for change, challenges, and prepared me also for interacting with people at all levels in society."
He said it also allowed him to better relate to the ROTC programs at both Washington University and MIT. He has supported these programs because he understands the importance of the military firsthand.
"I think the military is vital to our future," he said. "(Its) objective of providing security for the United States is vital to our future ... a lofty undertaking and one that we need to support."