High school students are used to hearing advice about working hard and going after their dreams, but one Medal of Honor recipient had a different, simpler message: Be a good person.
Retired Army Capt. Flo Groberg shared this with about 200 high schoolers from the Washington, D.C., area at the West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference on Thursday.
The conference, hosted by the West Point Society of D.C., uses real-world scenarios to teach selected high school juniors how to negotiate leadership and ethical challenges.
Groberg, who received the Medal of Honor for tackling a suicide bomber in 2012 in Afghanistan, said his experiences growing up and serving in the Army motivate him to give back to his community and pay it forward.
“God kept me on this earth,” he said. “Every single day I have to do something to earn the right to be on this earth.”
Even though life can be challenging, he said, it’s also simple.
“Be a good person and be honest with yourself,” Groberg told the students. “We’re all going to screw up and make mistakes. But the day you’re capable of owning those mistakes and being honest about them is the day you can live free.”
Groberg said he didn’t want to give them the same old spiel of how one of them could be president someday.
“Maybe. Who cares? What you need to be is good people,” he said.
The 2012 suicide bomb attack claimed the lives of four of Groberg’s fellow service members, and he said he tries to honor his brothers by doing something greater with his life, including giving back to his community and supporting the families of the fallen.
“Life is tough,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot more bad than good.”
But the bad is what teaches Groberg to understand and appreciate life, he said.
“Every single experience you have is an experience for you to grow as an individual,” he added.
Olivia Brennan, a senior at Woodson High School in Virginia, told Army Times it was impressive to hear Groberg speak about his experiences and emphasize being a good person.
“More than just being courageous or taking opportunities, all the expected things you hear,” said Brennan, who was selected for last year’s conference and returned this year as a classroom facilitator. “It’s to be a nice person and how that translates not to just the big monumental things in life but on a day-to-day basis.”
Brennan, who has applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, said Groberg’s speech was inspirational and engaging.
Groberg told Army Times afterward that speaking at an event geared toward young adults is an opportunity to truly make a difference.
“They’re at a stage in their life where they’re sponges,” he said. “You really have an opportunity to give them a perspective of what it’s like out there and give them hope and motivation.”
Ethan Fine, a junior at Landon School in Maryland, said listening to Groberg was “amazing.”
“He did these amazing things and just coming away with these lessons … and at the same time being so relatable,” Fine said.
The junior said Groberg’s speech struck a chord with him.
“He was really funny and had all these lessons like life is simple and be honest with yourself,” Fine said. “And I think that’s really important, especially in the corporate world.”
As for advice Groberg wishes someone had given him when he was in high school?
“Relax, relax,” he said. “It’s okay. You’ll get there. Take time to appreciate who you’re with and what you’re going through.”