The Presidential Leadership Scholars visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Mt. Vernon, VA

Finding Common Ground

Reflections from the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program Session 1

By Mike Hemphill, Director of Academic Programming at the Clinton Foundation; Academic Director for the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

Last week, the 2017 Class of Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) kicked off the third year of the program with a week full of sessions and activities in Washington D.C. There, the impressive group of sixty Scholars — representing diverse backgrounds and viewpoints from a variety of sectors including corporate, nonprofit, government, education, healthcare, the military, and more — came together to embark on a six month journey to cultivate leadership skills, develop personal projects for social good, and form lasting relationships that will live well beyond this program.

Now in its third year, PLS is a partnership between Clinton Foundation and Presidential Center in Little Rock, the George W. Bush Center in Dallas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation in Austin and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation in College Station, and brings together Scholars for an extended weekend at each of these centers where they speak with leadership experts and members of the presidents’ administrations, and hear from the presidents themselves.

Anita McBride to Scholars, you are part of “such an exciting opportunity…You’ll take away the experience of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a presidential leader.”

At this first meeting, Scholars had a busy week filled with speakers and historic site visits, but perhaps the most valuable activities were the interactions that the scholars had with each other where they engaged in tough conversations on core values and beliefs, and demonstrated the ability to, as Keith Hennessey said, “disagree in a clean and respectful way.”

“The fact that you are participating in this shows your willingness to work towards the greater good.” — Valerie Jarrett

We are intentional in our efforts to maximize diversity across geography, race and ethnicity, employment sector, gender, and even the social issues of their projects, and it is through these candid, and often difficult discussions, that the Scholars really get to know one another.

Here is a recap:

The Presidential Leadership Scholars visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Mt. Vernon, VA
  • Scholars visited Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington, where they toured the estate and learned about Washington’s leadership style and impact on defining the role of our country’s chief executive by Richard Norton Smith; and the National Archives where they gained a historic context of presidential leadership by examining the actual Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America.
Richard Norton Smith leads a Classroom discussion at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Mt. Vernon, VA.; Presidential Leadership Scholars tour the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Secretary Donna E. Shalala participate in a conversation with the Presidential Leadership Scholars at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
  • Past administration members including President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala and President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez spoke to scholars about their experiences; and Former assistant to President George W. Bush, Anita McBride welcomed the Scholars to their dinner at White House Historical Association where she introduced Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs who spoke about her eight years in the Obama administration, and told the Scholars that they are our hope for the future because they “are willing to sit down with people with opposing views and find out what you have in common.”
“You are our hope for the future. Because you are willing to sit down with people with opposing views and find out what you have in common… The fact that you are participating in this [program] shows your willingness to work towards the greater good.” — Valerie Jarrett
Anita McBride and Valerie Jarrett speak to Presidential Leadership Scholars at The White House Historical Association in Washington, D.C.
Keith Hennessey, Lecturer in Economics, Stanford Graduate Business School, leads a classroom session with the Presidential Leadership Scholars at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
  • President George W. Bush’s former Deputy Assistant to the U. S. President for Economic Policy and Deputy Director of the of the U.S. National Economic Council, Keith Hennessey, currently a Lecturer in Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, led the Scholars in a conversation about the leadership lessons of the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the Carlyle Group and noted philanthropist, David Rubenstein shared his thoughts on leadership and challenged the Scholars to continue their commitment to make this world a better place.
“Philanthropy means loving humanity. Not writing checks.” David Rubenstein Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the Carlyle Group to 2017 Scholars, “I encourage people to think about what they can do with their time.”
David Rubenstein participates in a conversation with the Presidential Leadership Scholars at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
  • Charlie Rose, Senior Vice President and Dean of City Year explored the topic of empathy and civility in leadership, and Adam Foss, former Assistant District Attorney from Boston, shared his compassionate vision for the transformation of the juvenile justice system.
“The 2 most important words for a leader are ‘thank you’” — Senior Vice President and Dean of City Year. “The 1 most important word is ‘we’”
Charlie Rose, Senior Vice President and Dean of City Year and Adam Foss, Former Assistant District Attorney and Criminal Justice Reform Advocate participate in a conversation with the Presidential Leadership Scholars in Washington, D.C.

The goal of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program is to foster a growing group of motivated individuals who are committed to making the world a better place, and who recognize the value of exploring a variety of perspectives to the challenging issues that face us. The 2017 Class joins a network of 121 Scholars who share that commitment and vision, and we are looking forward to our next meeting at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, TX.


To learn more about the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, visit www.presidentialleadershipscholars.org. For updates about the Presidential Leadership Scholars, use #PLScholars or follow @PLSprogram on Twitter.