BASIS DC Honor Society Keynote Address

Today Jack Jacobson gave the keynote address as BASIS DC Public Charter School at the ceremony inducting new BASIS students into the National Honor Society and the National Junior Honor Society. Following are his prepared remarks.


(Remarks as prepared.)

Good evening and thank you, BASIS family, for the warm introduction and for the invitation to address all of these wonderful, accomplished students being recognized this evening.

The National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society was formed in 1921 and is founded on four pillars of excellence that each and every one of the students here tonight has demonstrated: scholarship, leadership, service, and character.

As you grow and progress academically and as you become contributing global citizens, these four pillars will support your continued success. While each is important, I’d like to focus this evening on service and on stimulating a desire to render service yourself, and how to engage others to serve their communities.

Mr. Eyerman’s introduction highlighted that I’m the President of the District of Columbia State Board of Education. As a member of the Board and as President, I’m a public servant. In fact, next month will mark eight years of elected public service for me.

But I wasn’t always dedicated to public service.

In high school and college, I was focused on academics, extracurricular activities like music and drama, and work. I worked a lot. I came from a lower class family and my folks didn’t have a lot of money for my brother and me.

After college I moved to DC and, to be honest, I was distracted and enthralled. I’d never lived in a real city before. There was so much new to explore and experience! A lot more than the farm I grew up on. And while my parents had been public servants -- my mother was a middle school music and English teacher and my dad was a police officer and detective -- my chosen career in lobbying didn’t included public service.

I had a good job, I had a small apartment, and I spent a lot of time simply having fun with my friends. And it left me unfulfilled and unhappy at my core.

You see, though I didn’t realize it at the time, my parents had instilled in me the desire to serve. Not only were both their chosen career paths public service, but they also ran for and were elected to public office. My mother became Vice President of my school board when I was in high school, and my dad was on city council, then mayor, then president of our school board.

I, on the other hand, went right into my career as a lobbyist, which was intellectually stimulating and financially comfortable, but which left me unsatisfied. Something was missing.

I went on a journey to figure out what was missing in my life. I quit my job. I traveled a great deal. I spent a lot of time wondering what, exactly, was wrong.

Then I ran out of money and had to get back to being an adult.

But I tried something new.

I started volunteering. Just little things at first. A morning at a soup kitchen. Attending a fundraiser for homeless residents.

And I got more drawn into the philanthropic and volunteer world. I was hooked! I loved it. I worked on policy issues that impacted not only me, but my neighborhood. And then on issues that affected the entire city!

I had finally found my passion and it was invigorating. And that passion was contagious. I got my friends involved in making their community better. We took up the issue of DC’s outdated taxi system and saved consumers literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on DC’s taxi rates.

But I wanted to do more. So I ran for public office, because holding public office also gave me a built-in platform to raise the issues I cared about and believed in.

I also got a job at a company that allowed me to continue to advance in my career as a lobbyist, but which also put a great deal of emphasis on pro bono issues. While at Hogan Lovells, I was able to work on really awesome projects that helped our nonprofit clients and the vulnerable populations they serve: first, we were able to get in-person visitation reinstated at the DC Jail; second, we got the City to allow a non-profit organization to build a children’s playground at DC General Homeless Shelter, a really horrible and demoralizing home to over 500 of DC’s children.

For me, from now on, service will always be a part of my life and a part of my friends’ lives -- partly because I choose friends who are also interested in serving their community, but also because we have a great time serving TOGETHER.

And don’t think service has to be boring, either. My friends and I happen to like wearing wigs. A lot. I probably own 20 wigs. So 7 years ago we started a fundraiser called Wig Night Out where you wear a wig and donate to charity. In seven years we’ve raised over $42,000 to send gay, lesbian, and transgender students to college and graduate school through Point Foundation. I even got my mom and dad to wear wigs and help out two years ago, and they had a blast.

In closing, I want to once again commend you for your recognition by the National Honor Society and Junior Honor Society. I’m very proud of you, as are your teachers and families. Stay focused on scholarship, leadership, service, and character, find your passion, and most importantly, have some fun along the way.

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