U.S. Army four-star general David Petraeus is widely regarded to be one of the most prominent military figures of the post-9/11 era. During his 37 years in the Army, Petraeus gained the reputation for being one of the great warrior-intellectuals in American military history, culminating his career with six consecutive commands as a general officer, five of which were in combat. After Petraeus' retirement from the military, he served as Director of the CIA, playing a central role in a number of achievements during the global war on terror.

In addition to various business and academic pursuits, Petraeus has also been a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs from 2013 to 2019. Previously Petraeus received a great number of U.S. military, State Department, NATO, and United Nations awards and decorations, including four awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, and two awards of the NATO Meritorious Service Medal. He also has been decorated by 13 foreign countries. In 2007 he was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential leaders of the year and one of four runners-up for Time’s person of the year.

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In order to prepare for his future roles in global conflict, Petraeus came to Princeton University, first choosing the Woodrow Wilson School over other schools of public policy because of the importance the program attached to public service. Having already completed his undergraduate degree at West Point, Petraeus was drawn to the Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program because of the interdisciplinary nature of the coursework. After graduating in 1985, he stayed at Princeton in order to complete his Doctor of Philosophy degree in international relations, needing only two more years to do so. His doctoral dissertation was titled "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era."

As one of the nation's top military leaders, Petraeus has been drawn back to his alma mater over the years for numerous awards and recognitions for his service. Among these occasions include Princeton honoring the decorated general in 2010 with one of its top alumni awards, the James Madison Medal. Earlier, Petraeus had been selected in 2009 as the speaker at Princeton's Baccalaureate ceremony, where he urged graduating seniors to pursue public service. Speaking to the great influence of his alma mater, Petraeus assured the fresh grads, "You may be surprised at how the knowledge and skills you have acquired here at Princeton — whether in the social sciences, the natural sciences or the humanities —will serve you as you serve others."