From Marine to Fire Marshal to Student: Another Beginning for Peter Meade '12; "Life Gives the Test Before the Lesson"

By Diana Hawkins, academic advisor, Center for Distance Learning

January 23, 2012

At age 68, Peter Meade '12, (at left, with son Brian), understands there’s no time like the present.

He survived Marine Corps boot camp, 45 years of active fire fighting service, parenthood, prostate and bladder cancer, and most recently, final coursework to complete his bachelor’s degree through SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning.

“Throughout the years, life always seemed to get in the way, but I always knew someday I’d have my degree,” said Meade, who will graduate in 2012 with a degree in community and human services with a concentration in emergency management. “I am not doing this for my family, or for my boss, or for my professors. I am doing it for myself,” he said.

In 1961, still a senior at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, N.Y., Meade enlisted in the Marine Corps. After graduating from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., he was assigned to the 6th Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He received training as a cryptographer and was called to assist the U.S. government during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, entrusted with access to secret strategy, planning, and implementation documents. When he was released from active duty, holding the rank of corporal, his brother Michael Meade motivated him to become a firefighter in his home town of Great Neck, N.Y. This led to a civil-service position as fire marshal, where he served his community for more than 37 years. Most notably, Meade co-founded the Fire and Rescue Communications Center for Nassau County, a countywide emergency command, control and communications organization, staffed by more than 40 people, and modeled by other stations across the country.

“If I were wealthy, I’d have done this job for free,” said Meade, who still works part time for Nassau County as a public fire safety education specialist teaching kids and elderly residents how to prepare for an emergency. “Proper planning saves lives,” he said.

Peter Meade with son BrianMeade retired from his position as assistant chief fire marshal in 2009. “I am the only person in my family without my degree. My life changed, and I finally had the time to do this,” said Meade. Although he was not able to attend campus-based courses, Meade found that distance learning worked well for his lifestyle and academic needs.

“Through Empire’s program, my campus is in my den. And unlike traditional college classes, all students attend. No one is invisible. Through the class discussions, students have to ‘show up’ with something interesting to say and contribute. The experience is both enlightening and rewarding,” he said.
In his final term, Meade credits knowledgeable instructors, a dynamic course environment, support from his mentor Sally Cahan and his military training as key factors for his success.

“In the Marine Corps you are self-reliant. Yet you rely on fellow Marines to carry out a mission. This same philosophy transcends to the educational environment. You build your foundation and decide how it will go by reacting and reflecting what and how you learn. Then you rely on your instructors to help carry it out,” he said.

Above all, Meade credits his own personal commitment and motivation as the reason for his continued academic success. “I will be almost 70 when I finally have my degree. But I’d be 70 with or without it!” he added.

When he isn’t handing out shiny red hats and plastic badges to elementary school children, or reviewing module 2’s supplemental reading, Meade rides his son Brian’s Harley and enjoys cooking for his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Colleen. He also spends time writing poetry.

Meade authored the poem, “Luminaria,” read during a memorial service at The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, to honor people whose lives have been touched by cancer. Meade is currently in chemotherapy treatment, and lost his mom and older brother to the disease. “This poem has been shared at events throughout the country. I read it once, now the message is carried on through other voices,” he said.

In conclusion, when asked “What will you do after graduation?” Meade replied: “Life gives the test before the lesson. And I’ve learned a lot of lessons, so I am always ready and prepared for whatever might happen next.”

And for someone with his enthusiasm and accomplishments, the possibilities are endless.

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