As Veterans Day approaches, this special edition of Alum of the Month, featuring two former Navy SEALs, seeks to honor all alumni who have raised their right hand for the Oath of Office in service to the United States of America. Alex Pease ’90 and Quinn Fionda ’91 are two of five Hotchkiss alumni who have become SEALs, an elite unit that has participated in every U.S. conflict since Vietnam. Navy SEALs are one of a number of select military units.
The first time they crossed paths was at Hotchkiss. Their lives, however, would lead them to develop a strong bond. We thank them for sharing the following personal perspectives.
Pease had known he wanted to join the military, and specifically the Marine Corps, since he was about seven. “I had deep family connections to the Navy, so I never really considered alternative branches. As a SEAL, I operated in Central and South America – very exciting places to be prior to 9/11. In what was a transformational experience in every way, I still count the opportunity to serve with the SEAL Teams as one of the greatest honors of my life. Through my profound connection to all those who have served, a sense of empathy and pain for those who paid with the ultimate sacrifice, and a feeling of respect and gratitude for the gifts of our democracy, I have learned to live a life of purpose.”
Never having planned to join the military, Fionda hadn’t considered the Naval Academy. “My father worked for the airlines when I was growing up, so I was able to travel around the world, and that experience ignited my interest in foreign affairs and international diplomacy. Additionally, I admired pilots and eventually realized that by joining the Navy, I could learn to fly.”
His time as a SEAL was spent in Bosnia, Western Africa, and the Middle East, “doing some really interesting things.” He values many things about his experience, but at a Veteran’s Day auditorium at Hotchkiss in 2016, Fionda spoke about commitment. “A commitment to someone or something beyond yourself – a commitment to the country, to the team, to the guy next to you…a commitment that is absolutely unwavering.” This is a message that continues to resonate with the Hotchkiss community.
Since its earliest days, Hotchkiss has honored those who served. Memorial Hall was erected in 1923 to memorialize alumni, faculty, and staff who did not return from World War I. Several other war memorials and plaques around campus serve to remind current students of the many who have made sacrifices. The School community gathers annually in November to remember and reflect on the meaning of Veterans Day.
Pease and Fionda are proud of Hotchkiss’s record of military service and the fact that the School has produced five Frogmen, which Pease attributes to “the combination of leadership, teamwork, and commitment to service.” Fionda adds, “I have heard that there is only one other secondary school in the nation that has produced more SEALs. It’s remarkable, but not surprising. Hotchkiss provides a foundation of work ethic, creative thinking, and discipline.”
Fionda was familiar with New England prep schools through youth hockey. He chose Hotchkiss for a number of reasons, including its location. English classes with Blair Torrey and Geoff Marchant stood out for him, and he found Jeff Kosak and Alban Barker to be highly influential. “Hotchkiss built my foundation through academics, athletics, and the opportunity to spend my formative years with amazing faculty members and my classmates, resulting in lasting friendships.”
Pease credits the School with enabling him to realize his dream of attending the US Naval Academy. “Prior to Hotchkiss, I lacked the discipline and focus that I needed. My parents and I were drawn to the Connecticut prep schools and ultimately Hotchkiss. My favorite class was history with Tim Katzman – I hated his politics and his bow tie, but his energy and dedication were infectious. He invested in my future, through his role coaching baseball and by bringing me to Dartmouth to meet with a former student who had made it to the Naval Academy a few years earlier.”
The two SEALs have become good friends. “We are part of a brotherhood that is unlike any other in the world,” says Pease. “The strong bonds, values, and sacrifice I share with Quinn and my brothers in arms extend beyond my direct shipmates to anyone who served.”
They were both stationed on the East Coast and left the Navy around the same time, ending up in graduate school together at Dartmouth. Subsequently, they have both pursued careers in finance. Pease joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., eventually shifting to the corporate world where he has been CFO of three public companies across three different industries. Fionda moved to New York and has been in the financial services sector ever since, mostly in investment management. He is currently at Isomer Partners.
Asked if they would recommend military service to current students, Pease says, “Absolutely! You will practice the relentless pursuit of excellence, experience comfort with ambiguity, and gain the ability to deal with stress. By interacting with people from completely different backgrounds and leading under adversity, you will change your life journey forever.”
Fionda adds, “When contemplating the military as a career, go in with your eyes wide open. Remember what you are ultimately training for and what the outcomes of that training might be. The value of military service is the intangible reward one feels having served something bigger and greater than oneself.”