Bryce Burgwyn ’21: from Guam to home

Bryce Burgwyn ’21 had one firm conviction at the beginning of her college search—she would not follow her older sister to the Coast Guard Academy (USCGA). Of course, that was before she went to the USCGA campus for a weeklong visit with her sibling. “Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the school and with the mission of the Coast Guard,” she says. “I found the combination of humanitarian and environmental objectives irresistible.”

During four years at USCGA and more than eight years of service in the Coast Guard, Burgwyn’s duties spanned a broad range of maritime, law enforcement, environmental, and marine science experiences: scrubbing the deck and working the rigging of a tall ship; leading a vessel boarding and security team along the Florida coast; overseeing a right whale speed protection zone as a marine life resource officer. In her final post before retiring from the Coast Guard, Burgwyn served as Chief of Contingency Planning and Force Readiness for Guam sector.

“Guam posed a number of distinct leadership challenges,” she says. “In addition to heading a team of senior Coast Guard officials with disparate motivations, strengths, and teamwork philosophies, I managed our collaborations with other U.S. agencies and with foreign officials. It was a series of daily lessons in finding positive ways to build consensus and channel each person’s energy and capabilities into cohesive, productive action.”

Burgwyn says she never considered a career in the law before her time in Guam. “Law school and the legal profession simply weren’t on my radar. But the complex, multifaceted world of international operational readiness brought me into contact with a lot of lawyers—Coast Guard lawyers, civilian lawyers, and lawyers representing other governments. As I interacted with them and learned about their work, I saw how their roles played to my strengths. I began to envision a future as a lawyer.”

Burgwyn admits that, initially, HLS seemed like a distant dream. “Several things had to fall into place before Harvard could become a reality for me. Gaining admission was the big one, of course, but my husband’s next posting was a close second. We had no certainty that he would be assigned to Coast Guard Station Boston.” Two things Burgwyn didn’t worry about, however, were how she would pay for graduate school (thanks to generous Yellow Ribbon scholarships at HLS) and whether she would fit in at HLS.

“From the moment I engaged with the school and started talking with people about the HLS experience, I felt welcomed and at home. I saw endless variations on the career and life choices open to students and alumni, but I also encountered a common spirit. Everyone here pursues excellence with a mind to making a difference—in criminal justice, business, public policy, civil litigation, human rights, or whatever realms are drawing us. That,” she says, “is what makes HLS a community I want to call home.”