2020 Tillman Scholar

Peter Kiernan

Marine Corps
Harvard University
M.P.P, M.B.A.

“I believe we owe a debt to the generations gone before us, and it is our responsibility to pay forward our advantages and privileges to future generations.”

Peter James Kiernan is a lifelong New Yorker who, being intimately affected by the events of 9/11, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after his 18th birthday. Peter immediately excelled, and became the youngest Marine Raider in the history of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The military taught Peter the importance of well-informed policy decisions on the battlefield and his experience includes becoming a scout sniper, fluent in Pashto, free-fall qualified and leading more than 40 combat missions in Afghanistan.

After nearly six years of service, Peter attended Columbia University, where he studied international relations in an effort to better understand the Afghanistan conflict in which he took part. In 2017, he received a Mitchell Scholarship to pursue a master’s in conflict resolution at Trinity College-Dublin. While studying the peace process in Northern Ireland, he explored fundamental aspects of conflict such as justice, trust and victimhood, to better understand why human nature often makes conflicts intractable. Reprocessing his experience of combat in academia added greater depth to his understanding about the inherent tradeoffs of policy-decisions and how conflicts are best resolved.

Peter most recently served as the deputy director for response operations under Governor Andrew  Cuomo’s COVID-19 Task Force, and looks forward to addressing the long term challenges of a globalized world. He is pursuing joint degrees in public administration and business from Harvard University where he continues to use his expertise and experience to protect his community and ultimately, aspires to inform policy making at the highest levels of government.