“We may not always choose what happens to us, but we always have the power to choose how we respond. I hope that my story stands as a testament to the human spirit’s incredible capacity to overcome, grow, and thrive – no matter the circumstances.” – Patrick Nugent, WG’22

My name is Patrick Nugent. I am a Wharton MBA alumnus, Harvard-educated Master in Public Administration, a Marine Corps Captain, and an adaptive sports athlete. I completed my MBA in May 2022 and then earned my Masters in Public Administration in 2023. This was made possible via an extraordinary educational opportunity offered through the three-year Wharton + Harvard Kennedy School MPA/MBA Dual Degree program.

I embarked in this rigorous endeavor fueled by relentless self-determination. It was a hard-fought and hard-won journey to find faith in myself after a gunshot wound abruptly ended my Marine Corps career; a sudden moment of agony that changed my life forever.

Planting the seeds of service

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up in a loving family with a strong military heritage. My grandfather served as a Naval Aviator in World War II, and my father served as a Marine during the Vietnam War. When it came down to deciding which college I should attend, I applied to only one school. To my delight, I gained acceptance to The Citadel; or, the Military College of South Carolina. Ever since my childhood, I considered The Citadel as the place best equipped to prepare my becoming a military officer. Once I arrived, I immediately fell in love with the camaraderie, the challenges, and the noble sense of purpose and service offered by the military. 

Excelling at The Citadel both academically and as a leader, I experienced the honor of being named Regimental Commander. This position is reserved for the number one cadet of the College, chosen to lead the student body out of 2,200+ of my fellow classmates. The experience of supporting and leading my peers as Regimental Commander confirmed my belief, deeply held since childhood, that the military was the right path for my life choice.

Regimental Commander Nugent, right front, marches at The Citadel. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

How an Earth-shattering injury changed life changed forever

On July 12, 2017, just five days into my second deployment, tragedy struck. Fired during a nighttime exercise, a single bullet left me with shattered bones, internal injuries, and excruciating pain. In an instant, my legs went numb and I fell, unable to move from the waist down. At first, I thought I was dreaming; then, reality hit, and I experienced the worst pain of my life. Urgently airlifted to a nearby hospital, I underwent numerous surgeries that both saved my life and attempted to repair the bullet wound’s damage. 

Captain Nugent is on the far right in this photo, snapped while patrolling on deployment with his fellow Marines. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

In the depths of despair, I clung to glimmers of hope where I found them. Every day, I dedicated countless hours to rebuilding my strength and reclaiming control over my body. Through unwavering resolve and a tireless commitment to my various forms of physical therapy, my recovery defied expectations. Over time, my injury saw gradual improvement. 

Nugent begins his journey to healing in 2017 at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

From hope to despair and back again

The path was not easy. For close to a year after my injury, I remained confined to a wheelchair, using an ostomy pouch, and fed a steady stream of antibiotics through an intravenous catheter in my arm. During my recovery, I encountered the concept of post-traumatic growth, which the American Psychological Association defines as when someone is able to “endure psychological struggles following adversity, leading to profound personal growth.” Borrowing inspiration from this, in addition to philosophers like Viktor Frankl, who wrote extensively about the importance of adapting one’s attitude to meet life’s circumstances, I made the conscious decision to embrace a post-traumatic growth mindset. It is within this framework that I actively worked to cultivate my own resilience.

Though my military career was abruptly cut short, I refused to let my injuries define me, and set my sights on attending graduate school. In 2020, I earned admission to both the Wharton School of Business and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Nugent holds his Harvard Master in Public Administration degree from Harvard as he stands with parents Donald Nugent and Lynn Burnett. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

A path forward at Wharton

I initially battled imposter syndrome when I started at Wharton, feeling out of place among my (very) accomplished peers. But, harnessing my new mindset of growth and resilience, I sought guidance from professors, pushed myself academically, and delved into professional pursuits. My hard work paid off when I accepted a full-time job offer to work for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in New York City upon my 2022 graduation from Wharton.

The School provided a supportive and welcoming environment that nurtured my transition out of the military. I engaged in “stretch experiences” that pushed me beyond my comfort zone. I performed at Battle of the Bands, danced at the Dance Studio Showcase, modeled at the Penn Charity Fashion Show, shared my story at Storytellers, and studied abroad at Wharton INSEAD in Singapore. By the time I graduated, I had grown immensely. No longer the imposter-on-campus, I felt a strong sense of belonging and a love for my newfound community. 

Staying cool in Singapore, Nugent is pictured with friends during his trip abroad to Singapore with Wharton INSEAD. From left to right: Molly Lohry, Patrick Nugent, Naya Frazier, and Peter Vale, all WG’22. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

A new captainship takes hold

Adorned with medals, Nugent smiles on stage at the Department of Defense’s 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa Bay. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

Throughout my graduate studies, I also pursued adaptive sports, preparing for the 2023 Invictus Games, which is an international event for wounded service members. The 2023 occurrence of the Games was held in Dusseldorf, Germany. Selected as Team USA’s captain, I showcased my athleticism in rowing, cycling, and powerlifting competitions when I crossed the Atlantic. There, I earned a bronze medal in powerlifting, an honor that represents the culmination of my recovery journey. Through this achievement, I aim to inspire others through highlighting the importance of cultivating a growth mindset in the face of adversity.

Nugent with former UPenn president and now Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann, who attended the games in Dusseldorf. (Image: Patrick Nugent)

We may not always choose what happens to us, but we always have the power to choose how we respond. I hope that my story stands as a testament to the human spirit’s incredible capacity to overcome, grow, and thrive – no matter the circumstances. 

Mentally, physically, spiritually, I thank Wharton for helping me to see new dynamics of my true and best potential. 

– Patrick Nugent 

Posted: November 8, 2023

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