Southwest HS grad Jake Sullivan looks back and ahead to White House

- During the two years Jake Sullivan walked into the Oval Office, there wasn’t a moment he didn’t ask himself how it happened.

“Pretty much every day I sat in there,” reflected Sullivan.

It’s been a long journey in a few short years from Southwest High School in Minneapolis to Washington for Sullivan. From deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, to policy advisor to President Obama, those steps through the Oval Office never got old.

“I never once when I walked through that door forgot about the awesome opportunity and the awesome responsibility that came with that,” said Sullivan.

It’s a journey he gives great credit to his teachers and neighbors in southwest Minneapolis for all the lessons in seizing opportunities when they present themselves.

“People here have a deep sense of community and a commitment to serving their community whatever it may be, their neighborhood, their city, their state, their country. And, that sense of service is something that everybody touched me here,” said Sullivan.

During his time at the State Department, Sullivan traveled to 112 countries with Sec. Clinton. He started the difficult negotiations under Clinton to end Iran’s nuclear program.  He finished those negotiations with a signed treaty under Sec. John Kerry.

Sullivan also believes his instilled sense of Minnesota sensibilities has made him a better diplomat. 

“Minnesota is a place that is passionate about human rights, about democracy, about all of the things that have made this country great,” said Sullivan. “So, I learned to balance as a diplomat, recognizing that other people in the world see things differently, but never giving up on, or getting too far away from the core values that I think make our state and our country great.” 

Since leaving government in 2014, Sullivan has been teaching at Yale University. He’s taking a break from teaching this semester to assist the Clinton campaign where he’s served as a general advisor and debate coach. But he has strong thoughts on the world threats facing the next president, whoever is elected. He believes radical Jihadist terrorism both overseas and their sympathizers in America are the biggest challenge.

The second threat is nuclear proliferation.

“The North Koreans are trying to continue to test and build nuclear weapons,” said Sullivan. “Other countries and terrorist groups would like to get their hands on nuclear weapons.  And that’s why many of Donald Trump’s comments about being fine with lot of countries having nuclear weapons is so concerning.”

If Clinton wins the election, Sullivan could be in line to return to the White House one more time. Having just gotten married last summer, the 39-year-old admits he is trying to use his diplomatic skills to convince his wife to eventually resettle from their current home in Brooklyn to Minnesota. But that will all wait if he can get one more chance to serve in a presidential administration.

“I do think that there is a lot of unfinished business, a lot of things that we can do to make life better for the American people to keep this country safe and secure, and I would love to be part of that,” he said.


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