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Jean-Luc Picard was a celebrated Starfleet officer, archaeologist and diplomat who served during the latter two thirds of the 24th century. The highlights of his career were centered around assignments as commanding officer of the Federation starships: USS Stargazer, USS Enterprise-D, and the USS Enterprise-E. In these roles, Picard not only witnessed the major turning points of recent galactic history, but played a key role in them also, from making first contact as captain of the Federation's flagship with no fewer than 27 alien species, including the Ferengi and the Borg. He also became the chief contact point with the Q Continuum, and served as Arbiter of Succession, where he presided over the investiture of Chancellor Gowron. Picard would expose the Romulan Star Empire as backers of his chief rivals, later aiding a Romulan underground movement of dissidents to gain a toehold on the Romulan homeworld. He continued to serve as captain of the Enterprise-E, the sixth Federation starship to bear the name, until at least 2379.

Jean-Luc Picard was born in La Barre, France on Earth to Maurice and Yvette Picard on July 13, 2305. (TNG: "Family", "Conundrum") He and his elder brother, Robert, spent their childhood tending to their family vineyards with their father. Concerned about the preservation of their familial values, Maurice and his wife educated their sons in the ancient traditions, avoiding, in particular, any superfluous technologies. (TNG: "Family") As a young boy, Jean-Luc watched his grandfather "deteriorate from a powerful, intelligent figure to a frail wisp of a man, who could barely make his own way home." (TNG: "Night Terrors") As a child, Jean-Luc took piano lessons but eventually gave it up because he dreaded performing in front of an audience. In his later life, he would regret doing so because his playing used to please his mother. (TNG: "Lessons", "The Perfect Mate") Young Jean-Luc dreamed of adventure and exploration. He was fond of starships, of which he liked to build models. (TNG: "Booby Trap") Moreover, he was captivated by the Phoenix, the first Human warp-capable starship, which he admired several times at the Smithsonian Institution. (Star Trek: First Contact) Like his nephew René, Jean-Luc wrote a ribbon-winning report on starships. (TNG: "Family") Although Maurice intended his sons to work at the vineyards, it was obvious that since very early Jean-Luc knew he wanted to join Starfleet, something that his father would never condone, up until his death. (TNG: "Bloodlines") Jean-Luc would later remember that he devoted his childhood for that end, which was like skipping that age altogether. (TNG: "Suddenly Human") His brother would later note that Jean-Luc always sought higher standards, such as becoming president of his school and later a valedictorian and even an athletic champion. Robert was also jealous seeing Picard being the favored son and getting away after his mischiefs. Sometimes Robert had to bully his younger brother.

Jean-Luc caused "quite a stir" by leaving his family's generational vineyard and applying to Starfleet Academy. (TNG: "Family"; Star Trek Nemesis) Although he failed to gain entry on his first attempt, Picard succeeded in his second attempt in 2323. He subsequently became one of the most outstanding cadets in his class. (TNG: "Coming of Age", "The First Duty") Picard's career at the Academy was difficult, at best – years later, Picard credited Academy groundskeeper Boothby with helping him develop a mature attitude. (TNG: "The First Duty", VOY: "In The Flesh") Among Picard's friends at the Academy were Donald Varley, Cortan Zweller, Marta Batanides, and an acquaintance called "A.F.", whom he blamed for his failed semester of Organic Chemistry and whose initials Picard carved into Boothby's prized elm.

At the Academy, Picard developed an interest in archaeology. His professor, Richard Galen, encouraged him to continue in this field, but Picard ultimately refused his offer of becoming an archaeologist. (TNG: "The Chase") Picard also excelled in sports. He won the Starfleet Academy marathon in April 2323 on Danula II, becoming the first freshman to win the race. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"; Picard family album) During a wrestling match, Picard caught a Ligonian with a reverse body lift and pinned him down in the first fourteen seconds. (TNG: "The First Duty") During his sophomore year, Picard was assigned to training on Morikin VII where he had his first encounter with Nausicaans, who had an outpost on a nearby asteroid.

Shortly upon graduation in 2327, Picard's promising career nearly ended abruptly during a layover at Starbase Earhart. During a bar brawl over a rigged game of dom-jot, he was stabbed through the heart by a Nausicaan, and had to undergo emergency surgery to replace his heart. He later related to Wesley Crusher that he laughed after looking down to see the knife protruding from his chest. This event helped him realize how fragile life could be, and thus made him more willing to take risks and make his mark in the universe, which he only realized when Q proposed him to change this event in 2369. (TNG: "Samaritan Snare", "Tapestry") As an ensign, Picard was posted to the USS Reliant, where he served with Lieutenant Nakamura. (TNG: "The Measure Of A Man") As a junior officer, Picard was the closest of friends with Walker Keel, and also became friends with Jack Crusher and his fiancée, Beverly Howard. (TNG: "Conspiracy", "Journey's End", "Attached") Picard demonstrated command abilities early in his career, in particular, when he led an away team on Milika III to save an ambassador. This incident would later be mentioned by Q as one of the crucial events forming Picard's personality. (TNG: "Tapestry") As a young lieutenant, Picard attended the wedding of Sarek's son, where he briefly met Sarek and Spock for the first and only time before the 2360s.