Morgan Hitzig ’08 shared inspiring lessons of service and leadership with Middle School students at a Veterans Day assembly earlier this month. Throughout her presentation, Hitzig, who has served in the United States Navy since March 2016, spoke about her journey from Spence to the military, and her decision to trade in one uniform for the other.
Head of School Bodie Brizendine introduced Hitzig, describing her impressive work as Senior Director of Global Operations at the artificial intelligence company Dataminr, an advisor to the NYPD’s counterterrorism bureau, a journalist at CNN, and more. “Most of all, she is a devoted alum to Spence, and a true friend to me,” said Brizendine.
Hitzig began her presentation by sharing four common myths she has heard about serving in the military.
First, she discussed the myth that “All members of the military see combat.” While some positions in the military are focused on combat, Hitzig explained that there are a host of different ways to serve.
“It’s really brave people who are willing to stand up and deal with [a drill sergeant], but mostly they’re working jobs in embassies or working jobs in the Pentagon and Washington,” she said.
In describing the second myth, “People join the military as a last resort,” Hitzig explained that people have a multitude of institutional and occupational reasons for joining the military before detailing her own motivations. Hitzig was 11 years old when September 11, 2001 occurred, an event she said had a great impact on her eventual career trajectory.
“I didn’t know it then at 11, but I know it now. At that moment, I felt a call to serve,” she said. “It is an absolute honor every single time I get to wear the cloth of the United States of America, and I’m proudest of the contributions I can make to the lives of the people I work with.”
The third myth, she said, is the one she is confronted with most often: “Women have a hard time being successful in the military.”
“I’ve been in a lot of different types of organizations. I’ve been in technology, I’ve been in business, I’ve been in law enforcement,” she explained. “I actually have found that my voice is heard more in the military versus some of those other organizations.” However, Hitzig added, that there is still a lot of work to do in the military regarding women. “Women are only about 18% of the military still. That’s very low.”
The final myth she addressed was that “Military jobs don’t prepare you for the real world.” Hitzig said that from her own experience, the military is one of the best leadership training programs you could receive anywhere in the world.
“People coming out of the military are very adaptable and able to raise their hand for whatever challenge a company or organization is facing on any given day,” she said.
Hitzig also shared some observations she has noticed during her first few years of military service.
Although she had always been drawn to being part of a team atmosphere, Hitzig said that being part of a team and building relationships in the military is a special and unique experience.
“The reason they’re so special is that you know this person who is beside you in uniform, if called upon, is willing to support you no matter what the consequences of those actions are,” she explained.
In the spirit of Spence’s motto, “Not for school but for life we learn,” Hitzig noted that the military also keeps learning at its core.
“The military actually doesn’t let you stop learning. You don’t get to go to the next rank without going back to school,” she explained. “Curiosity is absolutely at the heart and soul of the military and how they run through their training pipeline.”
According to Hitzig, Spence has four alumnae currently serving in the military. “Coming out of a background like this means you can really expose people to a different kind of commitment to curiosity, to learning and to schooling,” she said.
When Hitzig prompted the audience for a definition of the word “leadership,” one fifth-grader described it as “taking the lead and helping everyone move forward.” Hitzig explained that the military makes you think about what your own leadership philosophy is very early on.
“A big part of leadership is giving task and purpose to a mission, and being able to explain the ‘why’ of it,” she said. “That really gives you the internal fortitude to know that you can do anything. If you go into the military thinking your capability is X, you will come out knowing that your capability is not just X, but also Y and Z. And Spence sets you up really nicely for that too.”
One Middle School student asked which of Hitzig’s observations of the military are most important to her.
“I think the most important thing is to be a giver and not a taker,” she said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the hamster wheel of life when you come back to New York City, but the people who have helped you get to where you are right now will only continue to help you. So make sure you pay it forward and give it back to the next generation.”