FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BJ Goergen

How did you learn about the Presidential Leadership Scholars, and what motivated you to apply?

I knew I would benefit from personal leadership development at this stage of my career, especially as my organization embarks on some bold initiatives in East Africa. Several friends who knew about the program suggested I apply, because PLS was created to help leaders grow and become more effective in their spheres of influence.

While I was motivated to personally grow as a leader, PLS also addressed whether your organization is leading in the best way possible in the area where you want to see change happen. For me, that was creating a mechanism to equip and launch the next generation of young leaders in South Sudan. The program delivered personally, professionally, and organizationally.

Was there a moment during your time as a Presidential Leadership Scholar that you found surprising or especially significant?

It would be easy to write a book on all the significant “aha” moments from the PLS experience. In the final module, we had the privilege to hear from three of the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. They were escorted to school by the U.S. Army, and frequently experienced daily verbal and physical harassment from the other students. Our moderator asked the panel if they experienced any moments of grace in that first year. Minnijean Brown-Trickey said “I’ve given this a lot of thought. We determined there were 100 bad kids, 20 nice kids, and 1,900 silent witnesses… Whose side are you on when you don’t say anything?”

Given the challenges across our country, Minnijean’s comments really resonated with me. Am I being a silent witness? Am I speaking out when I see injustice happen? I’ve reflected on that session, and it was a powerful reminder that we should use our voices to stand up for others.

Tell us about a favorite moment from the Presidential Leadership Scholars experience.

My fellow Scholars are an impressive group. They’re doctors, lawyers, teachers, fundraisers, executives; they work at foundations, non-profits, Facebook, Wal-Mart, Chick-Fil-A, Target, JP Morgan, BP, and Coca-Cola. This group runs large organizations, small organizations, and one-man shows. On our very first night, the Scholars were hosted for dinner at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and it wasn’t uncommon to hear “how did I get in?” It was a common joke among us that we were all the 61st scholar and weren’t sure how we had been selected for the program.

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez overheard the comments about not belonging in the room, and addressed them in his keynote. He said it didn’t matter why or how each of us had ended up in the room. In his view, we were in the room, and needed to think about how we would make the most of the opportunity we’d been given. That’s a great analogy for life, really. What am I going to do with the opportunities I’ve been given to have impact in my community and around the world? I wake up every day thinking about it.

What is your fondest memory from your time working in the Bush Administration?

Overall, my fondest memory was working with the most exceptional people who each had a heart and drive to make things better for others. The talent flowed at every level – from President Bush to staff assistants – everyone gave their best to make a difference in this country and around the world.

My first fond memory comes from working in the Office of Homeland Security, which was created right after 9/11. The days were stressful, and the team routinely worked seven long days a week and felt the pressure to make the country secure. To ease the tension, Governor Tom Ridge, homeland security advisor at the time, and Admiral Abbott, his deputy, would host a lively staff meeting on Friday afternoons. These meetings often concluded with Admiral Abbott standing on a chair shouting “Hip, Hip” and the staff would yell “Hooray!” Those late Friday meetings took on a life of their own that kept us all going with good spirits. It might have been stressful, but it was also fun and I’m still friends with many of my colleagues from that season.

How will you benefit from your Presidential Leadership Scholars experience in pursuing your personal and/or professional goals?

PLS gave me time and space to think about how The Radler Foundation can have greater impact in South Sudan. We currently provide clean water and health training for more than 64,000 people every year, but the current leadership crisis in the government provides an opportunity to do more. Last year we graduated our first class of students from the Leadership Academy of South Sudan, and PLS helped me with the tools I needed to create a platform for those students to become the next generation of young leaders in a country that desperately needs hope.

 

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH SaraH Jackson

How did you learn about the Presidential Leadership Scholars, and what motivated you to apply?

The answer to this question is easy- from Janelle Brevard, another fellow Bush-Cheney Alum and 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar. Following her graduation from the inaugural PLS Class last year, she reached out to me and encouraged me to apply to the program and shared her phenomenal PLS experience.

After speaking with Janelle, I was motivated to apply to the program for two main reasons:

1) Leadership development – I truly believe leaders should never stop learning and I was keen to learn and understand the significant leadership lessons from the experts – leaders who have served as Commander in Chief of our great nation.

2) Access to a diverse network of peers – The PLS network is diverse in a multitude of respects, which creates the ideal group to discuss leadership in today’s challenging public policy environment.

My PLS Personal Leadership Project is on race and public policy implementation in Dallas. It is my hope the collaborative initiative will eventually lead to an open dialogue about local public policies and the impact race has on implementation. My amazing PLS Colleagues have been instrumental in discussing various options to make this an effective and viable project.

Was there a moment during your six months as a Presidential Leadership Scholar that you found surprising or especially significant?

I will always remember our graduation day on July 14th as the most significant moment for numerous reasons. One reason is the “perfect storm”– both literally and figuratively – in which it occurred with national attention on race relations and one week after the police shootings in my home city of Dallas.

Our commencement ceremony was held at the historic Little Rock Central High School and we were joined by three of the Little Rock Nine - Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Minnijean Brown-Trickey. Prior to our graduation ceremony, we watched the three of them converse about their experience being among the first African-Americans to integrate a public school in Arkansas and their views of the world today. This was an extremely profound discussion.

Following this conversation, we transitioned to our graduation ceremony. I was honored to be elected by my fellow Scholars to serve as the class speaker. Addressing my classmates and three former world leaders (President William J. Clinton, President George W. Bush, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair) was an extraordinary experience and the perfect PLS capstone.

Right before the end of the ceremony, we were abruptly forced to evacuate due a severe thunderstorm that sounded like a freight train when it passed by us, which triggered the tornado sirens. The storm damage was evident as we drove back to the Clinton Center.

Tell us about a favorite moment from the Presidential Leadership Scholars experience.

There were numerous moments and experiences that I will never forget as a Presidential Leadership Scholar. However, there are two moments that stand out as favorites.

The first occurred during our trip to College Station. My fellow Scholars and I were watching the Aggie Wranglers, a Country and Western exhibition dance group, and one of my colleagues offered to teach them Bhangra dancing. The Wranglers accepted the invitation and we all rushed the stage to join the Wranglers in a spontaneous Bhangra dance. Both observers and dancers had an enjoyable time and the PLS Bhangra Flash Mob was officially born!

Another collection of favorite moments and a great aspect of the program is the candid conversations we have with President Clinton, President Bush, and members of their administrations. The presidents were not only gracious with their time, but were very open to discuss any issue with us – from their legacies to their stance on current public policy issues. This is a hallmark of the program and always was an unforgettable experience.

What is your fondest memory from your time working in the Bush Administration?

My fondest memory is the first time I met President Bush in 2007 at the farewell send-off for then Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. As President Bush left the room, he stopped to speak to us and ask how we were doing. His genuine care and concern was evident and I was grateful to finally experience it firsthand.

How will you benefit from your Presidential Leadership Scholars experience in pursuing your personal and/or professional goals?

The entire Presidential Leadership Scholar experience is transformative in many respects. I believe this happens as a result of the network and leadership development mentioned earlier. I cannot overstate how amazing my colleagues are and how knowledgeable they are about a multitude of issues thanks to our varied experiences. After completing PLS, I’m now an alumna with access to an expanded nationwide support network that is willing to offer counsel on the countless issues I may encounter while pursuing my civic passions or working with others on public policy issues. As the program grows, so will the network, which will only strengthen our ability to help each other.

Through PLS, I have gained new leadership knowledge and experience that will serve me well professionally and personally for a lifetime. Reflection is one of the lessons we further developed through the program and through the practice of reflection, I am able to think more constructively to ensure my goals align with actions. This is one of many leadership benefits I learned during PLS.