From 59th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, Lab alumni maintain connections

The road that took Barack Obama to the White House also has become an avenue to new adventures for graduates of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

Many Lab alumni, who were fresh out of college and eager to work for Obama on his presidential campaign, are now working for federal agencies, in the White House, or in other positions around Washington, D.C.

"What's nice about the connections is that there are many generations of Lab School graduates who were involved in the campaign and who now work for the President," said David Katz ('99), who was the main campaign photographer for the Obamas and now works for the Department of Energy.

"When we traveled on the campaign plane, I'd often see people like Valerie Jarrett, ('73) and other Lab School parents like Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt. We had a very nice hometown feeling on the plane," he said. "Then, when I went back to headquarters in Chicago, I'd run into everyone from John Rogers ('76) to John Oxtoby ('03)."

Now that he's settled in Washington, Katz sees other Lab alumni who have joined the administration, including Arne Duncan ('82), the Secretary of Education. "When I see him, often his wife Karen is along, and she introduces herself as my 'old gym teacher.'" Karen Duncan once taught at the Laboratory Schools.

The young Lab alumni gather for dinner once a month to reconnect by sharing school memories and talking about their new adventures. On the Fourth of July, they had a special reunion, celebrating the holiday at the White House.

Katz, a special assistant in the DOE, works with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. He has just embarked on a new campaign to market energy efficiency to the American public.

Katz connected with Obama in January 2004, when he volunteered to take photographs on Obama's Senate primary campaign. He later went to work with him in Washington.

 Kareem Saleh ('97) volunteered for the campaign and stayed on with the transition, working on domestic and international economic policy issues. He keeps in touch with high school classmate Kate Shaw ('97), who now works in the counsel's office at the White House, and he frequently sees other high school friends around town. Like Saleh and Shaw, who each held a spot on the Lab Model UN team, other Lab graduates have created lasting connections through their high school experiences.

Prior to his current job at a Washington, D.C. law office, Saleh had made other University connections through his work on the Obama campaign and the transition team, including meeting Austan Goolsbee, a former professor at Chicago Booth and current member of the president's Council of Economic Advisors.

During the transition, Saleh reviewed the activities and operations of international lending agencies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, for the incoming Treasury Secretary.

The presence of a Lab School community in the capital extends to current students. Andrew Harris, who will return to Lab this fall for his senior year, is a summer intern in the Institute for Education Sciences, where his duties include processing grant requests.

During Obama's presidential campaign, Harris had organized Lab students and canvassed voters in Indiana, encouraging them to support the Senator's run for office.

Rounding up student volunteers was made easier because of the Obamas' many University connections, including the enrollment of their daughters in Lab, Harris said. For some of those supporters, the election brought new opportunities in government as well as new pride in their school's link to history.

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