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Valerie Jarrett Visits Howard for Fireside Chat with President Frederick

By Donovan Thomas, News Editor

Valerie Jarret signs a copy of her book
“Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing Path Forward” for President Wayne A.I. Frederick. Photo Courtesy of Howard University Office of Communications

Former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett engaged in a fireside chat with Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick in the School of Business auditorium on Monday, Jan. 27. Jarrett is the author of “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward,” a book that chronicles her life, career and long-lasting relationship with Michelle and Barack Obama. She touched upon numerous topics present throughout her book in the conversation including, vulnerability, balance and excellence. 

Frederick opened the conversation by asking Jarrett about her origins in Iran, something that many may not know about her. Her father Dr. James E. Bowman, a graduate of Howard University Medical School, became chair of pathology at Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz, Iran after being denied opportunities in the United States. Jarrett spent her first five years in Iran before moving to Chicago in 1963. 

Jarrett shared that as a child she was bullied at school because of the accent she acquired while overseas. Jarrett revealed to the audience that it was not until she was well into her adulthood that she shared where she was from. 

“I felt different and I felt like an other. I stopped speaking Farsi. I was uncomfortable. It took me a long to be willing to say that the experience that I had in Iran shaped me in some very interesting ways,” said Jarrett. 

From these experiences, Jarrett became what she described as “painfully shy.”  She credits a mentor, Lucille Dobbins with breaking her out of her shell and coaching her on how to be a public servant. 

“Lucille looked out for me. She taught me how to advocate for other people, especially the least of these,” said Jarrett. 

Jarrett also discussed the issues she faced while raising a child and working a demanding job. She was quick to point out that because she was open about the situations in her life, others were willing to accommodate her needs.  

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“You have to educate others about the struggles you have,” said Jarrett. 

She went on to say how life and many of the relationships that we have in life are not always balanced. However, she stressed the need to be in environments that allow growth. 

“Work in places where you can thrive even though it’s not balanced,” said Jarrett. 

When asked by President Frederick about dealing with a five-generation workforce Jarrett suggested that those on top should make room for younger generations. 

“I think rather than carving up the pie differently, we should consider enlarging the pie to some degree and growing new opportunities for people to be involved,” said Jarrett. “You can still work because you’re older. Doesn’t mean you have to be the top person.”

When asked how she felt about the future of the nation, Jarrett said that she remains optimistic due to activism she sees from the students she meets across the country. 

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Jarrett closed by leaving students with some advice. 

“If you’re comfortable, it’s time to move on,” said Jarrett. 


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