Why I left the White House to attend Kellogg

“As you engage in the pursuit of profits, I challenge you to do so with a sense of purpose.  As you chase your own success, I challenge you to cultivate more ways to help more Americans chase their success.”

– President Barack Obama, Northwestern University, Oct. 2, 2014

As a former campaign and White House staffer, I have seen President Barack Obama speak countless times. Thursday, though, when President Obama spoke about the economy at Kellogg, was only the second time I have been a member of the audience for the president’s speech, and it felt great.

I have worked many similar events where I usually caught half of the speech from behind the press riser, or backstage while firing off emails on my blackberry. But sitting there with no responsibilities, I was reminded of why I worked for President Obama in the first place and why I decided to get my MBA.

The first time I ever heard him speak was in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, when he was just a State Senator. As an intern for the Kerry campaign, I knew how lucky I was to get to be on the floor of the convention center that night. What I didn’t know was how much that speech was going to shape my life.

I was so inspired by Obama’s words that night that I quit my job when he announced his candidacy in 2007 and joined his campaign as a low-level staffer. I didn’t know if I would still be employed in a few months, but I believed so much in him and what he stood for that I was willing to take a chance.

Before I knew it, I was moving to Washington to work in the White House, where I stayed until last summer. I started as the Executive Assistant to the First Lady’s Chief of Staff. Next I was the Education Director for the White House Fellows Program. For the last two years I was the Associate Deputy Director in the Office of the Social Secretary, which is the office that plans all events hosted by the President and First Lady. Most events were at the White House and ranged from State Dinners to bill signings to the President’s private birthday party.

A lot of people ask me why the $%*# I would leave that job at the White House. Believe me, it was not an easy thing to do and I miss the people and the work every day, but I have a few answers to help people understand. First, I was a political appointee, which means when the term was up, I would be out, so its not like it was going to last forever. And second, I gained a lot of “intangibles” from my non-traditional background, but I knew that if I wanted to truly make an impact on the world, I would need some of the hard skills.

That’s where Kellogg comes in.

My professors and fellow students have already taught me so much, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year will bring. I am also already looking forward to getting back into the real world, where I hope I can work to utilize this unbelievable network of brainpower to, in the words of the First Lady, “reach back” and help give others the same chance of success that Kellogg has given me.

Natalie Bookey Baker is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program.

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