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Valerie B. Jarrett, who, as senior advisor to President Barack Obama, has shaped national policy and the administration’s legislative agenda, will address Colby seniors at the College’s baccalaureate on May 21, the day before they graduate. She will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Colby during the ceremony.
A trusted confidante to both the President and to First Lady Michelle Obama, Jarrett has served in the administration since 2009, overseeing the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls. She has worked tirelessly to mobilize elected officials, business and community leaders, and diverse groups of advocates to champion efforts to boost equality and opportunity for all Americans.
The President and the First Lady have cited her numerous times for her wise counsel and leadership in the White House. In that role, Jarrett has had an extraordinary influence on modern political events, from governing to international affairs. She is the longest serving senior advisor to President Obama and has had unusual longevity in her position. She has been compared to Louis Howe, advisor to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Valerie Jarrett is the model of an effective public servant,” said Colby President David A. Greene. “Selfless in her actions, she holds herself and others to the highest ideals. She moves seamlessly from business to civic leadership because she never loses sight of the values that have guided her from early in life.”
Jarrett, who holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan, was born in Shiraz, Iran, where her father, a physician, helped start the Namazi Hospital and chaired its department of pathology. She grew up speaking English, Farsi, and French, moving as a kindergartener to London. Her mother, an educator specializing in early childhood, later founded the Erickson Institute, a graduate school in early child development.
A veteran of Chicago city government, first with the administration of Mayor Harold Washington and later for Richard Daley, Jarrett met Barack Obama while serving as Mayor Daley’s deputy chief of staff in 1991. Jarrett hired Michelle Robinson, then engaged to Obama, for a job in the Daley administration. Both Obamas frequently tell the story that Michelle arranged for Jarrett to meet Barack before deciding to take the job.
In addition to working in politics, Jarrett has served on multiple boards, including as chairperson of the Chicago Stock Exchange, chair of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees, and Chicago’s Museum of History and Industry. Before joining the Obama administration, she was CEO of The Habitat Company, a real estate development and management company.
In the White House, in addition to advising the president, Jarrett has been a driving force on efforts to end sexual assault on college campuses, raise the minimum wage, advocate workplace polices that empower working families, and promote entrepreneurship and early childhood education.
“We’re honored that Valerie Jarrett has agreed to share this special occasion with Colby,” Greene said. “She has led a life of great meaning and purpose, so her message will have special resonance to the talented Class of 2016.”
Members of the Class of 2016, who number approximately 500, came to Colby from 31 states and 31 countries. Two thirds of the class studied abroad, and the majority of them have completed internships and significant scholarly research. They will go on to a broad range of careers and to graduate or professional schools to study law, education, finance, medicine, nonprofit leadership, and much more.
Founded in 1813, Colby is one of America’s most selective colleges. Serving only undergraduates, Colby offers a rigorous academic program rooted in deep exploration of ideas and close interaction with world-class faculty scholars. Students pursue intellectual passions, choosing among 56 majors or developing their own. Independent and collaborative research, study abroad, and internships offer robust opportunities to prepare students for postgraduate success. Colby is home to a community of 1,850 dedicated and diverse students from around the globe. Its Maine location provides easy access to world-class research institutions and civic engagement experiences.