Big Moments, Little Decisions: Former CIA Officer Kristen Edwards Marquardt ’97 Offers Life Lessons to EHS Seniors

A life well-lived includes adventure, a strong moral compass, and smart, thoughtful choices on matters big and small. That was the message for seniors this week gathered to hear former CIA officer Kristen Edwards Marquardt ’97 talk about her career, her life, and her faith.
Marquardt told the seniors that she joined the CIA in 2006 seeking only an adventure and the chance to protect the United States. As an operations officer, she said she initially worked in counterproliferation, “which means I chased arms dealers, nuclear weapons programs, chemical weapons — really shady, bad people.” Later she moved into counterterrorism, and her duties included tours in war zones.   

“It was an incredible opportunity to serve my country,” she said. “And I had a lot of fun.”
Marquardt urged the seniors to keep an eye open for similar unexpected opportunities as they ready for college, gap years, and work. “You guys have been talked to your whole life about setting goals and working toward something important and having a plan,” she said. “And that is part of life. But the other part of life is knowing that the plan is always going to change.” 

Marquardt also urged the seniors to spend time identifying what matters most to them in life. Establish the values you want to live by, she said, and life’s tough, pressure-filled decisions will be easier. The CIA, she noted, put her through ethics training before sending her to a dangerous part of the world. The goal: decide exactly the conditions that would lead her to draw her gun and use deadly force. With that decision made thoughtfully outside the heat of the moment, she was less likely to freeze or panic when confronted by danger. 

Everyone routinely faces smaller yet critical decisions that come packed with pressure, she said. “Say you’re going to a social event. Are you going to drink, or not drink? Are you going to drink and drive? Do you want to do drugs or not want to do drugs? Making those decisions in advance is super important.”

Marquardt, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urged students to forgive themselves when they fall short of their goals. “God does not expect me to be perfect right now. But he does expect me to make an effort to be a little bitter tomorrow than I am today.”

Marquardt visited campus to help kick off the year’s Leadership and Ethics program. She is currently chief of cyberstrategy for the Bank of America. Previously, she served as an advisor to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and more recently to the secretary of Homeland Security. 

Other Leadership and Ethics activities for the day included:
  • EHS counselors Joey Halm and Kristin Hosmer led a discussion with ninth graders about the ethics of dorm life and roommate contracts.

  • Emmy-nominated speaker Mark Brown discussed community building with the 10th grade.

  • The 11th grade traveled into Washington, D.C., for a study of leadership styles.