Thank you, Oldfields Diversity Committee, for inviting back alumna, Jacquette McGhee '98, who presented to a packed house in Gookie's this past Friday. Students were fascinated by her path from an Oldfields student to a refugee officer for the Department of Homeland Security, and they loved her tales of travel around the globe. The passion Jacquette has for OS and for her job was evident as she answered questions the girls asked well beyond the allotted hour for her talk.
The very first question Jacquette was asked was, "How did Oldfields prepare you for your career?" She explained that it was at Oldfields that she had her first exposure to an international world that took her well beyond her suburban home. When she first met people from other countries, she began thinking about the reasons someone would want to leave their country of origin. She began learning about the refugee crisis that was going on in the 1990s, and her interest led her to major in international relations at Pepperdine University. Jacquette also shared that being at a boarding school taught her how to be independent, a quality she needed upon signing up for the Peace Corp following college.
Jacquette did a great job of explaining the difference between an immigrant seeking asylum who actually has feet on the ground in the United States, and the refugees she interviews outside our borders in camps like the ones found in Sudan, Rwanda, Syria, and Kenya. Her number one mandate from DHS is to keep Americans safe by letting in only carefully screened candidates. Her second charge is to admit those with the most desperate needs. Although she had a very playful delivery when she joked about traveling with body guards and her team being mistaken for celebrities, you can tell she takes her responsibilities very seriously.
The next question posed by a student got right to the heart of the matter. Did Jacquette ever have to follow a law or policy with which she does not agree? She explained that the laws are put in place by the legislative branch of government, are basically designed to keep dangerous people out of the U.S., and that most who choose to work for Homeland Security are in agreement with the laws. However, the policies that the executive branch can set in the short term are sometimes more controversial. For example, the recent change to accept only 45,000 refugees into the U.S., down from 110,000 the previous year, is a policy, not a law. Jacquette made it clear that her duty is to enforce the laws and policies even when it may be difficult to do so.
Jacquette finally had to end the Q &A session since the girls needed to get to class. She closed by sharing that, although not perfect, the United States has an incredible system in place to screen refugees and make good decisions. In her 11 years at the Department of Homeland Security she has seen significant improvement in regard to countries sharing information with one another. As the girls reluctantly left the room, it was obvious that this Oldfields girl from the Class of 1998, a member of the White Team, and a former OS basketball star, is making a huge difference in the world and is inspiring her OS sisters to do the same!!