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At the age of 29, Raymond Jefferson faced the decision of his life. As a commander of a US Army unit on a training exercise in Japan, Jefferson found himself with a grenade in hand that was counting down prematurely. And no where to throw it. With two seconds left, the young man chose to protect those around him.
I didn't want to hurt anyone, so I held on to it," recalled Jefferson. "I looked down and my three fingers evaporated and the other two were hanging by a string."
The West Point graduate was sent to Hawaii for treatment and ultimately lost his five fingers. He was hospitalized on and off for six months, as he grappled with the reality that his 11-year military career could be over for good. Upon his final release from the hospital, he traveled the world for two months and pondered his next move, and ultimately chartered a course toward continuing his education. "After West Point," he said, "my dream was to go to Harvard."
In 1997, Jefferson began a full and memorable midcareer program at Kennedy School, graduating a year later with a slew of awards, his MPA and a renewed focus to help others. He continued his studies in 1998 at the Harvard Business School, not, he said, to learn to be a CEO, but rather "to learn leadership and management from the private sector's perspective."
Selected in 2000 for a Fulbright Fellowship to Singapore to work with nonprofits that aid physically challenged people like himself, Jefferson deferred the honor to serve a busy year as a White House Fellow. Among his many achievements, Jefferson has worked with Easter Seals on a national campaign to educate amputees about prosthetics, as well as founding the Harvard-Hawaii Initiative, a program that brings Harvard students to the island to cultivate future students as well as share resources. His brief time as a Fellow, so far, has only further engaged his drive "to continue a career of leadership and public service." It has also given him time to consider his next move, which may include establishing a nonprofit organization, getting involved with international relief efforts, or both.
"The accident did two things," he said. "It energized everything I had before and it opened up possibilities of how people can serve. When I got accepted to the Kennedy School, that was my door. What I'm doing right now is exploring opportunities for service, diplomacy and humanitarian endeavors.
"I'm really grateful to the Kennedy School, and I hope for the rest of my life I'll be a part of it."
Top Photo: Ray Jefferson (White House Fellow). Courtesy of BusinessWeek Online
Bottom Photo: L-R, White House Fellows Ray Jefferson and Scott Berns at the White House. Photo Credit: Pat Piercey (White House Fellow).