Deborah Lee James, Former Secretary of the United States Air Force, Visits Gann Academy

By: Leah Koritz '22 

On Wednesday, January 22, former United States Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Gann Academy to discuss her experience as the second woman to ever serve in that role, as well as her journey to get there. James, who served as Secretary of the Air Force from 2013-2017, also shared with Gann faculty and students her advice on pursuing goals, personal stories, and information about the Air Force. The assembly concluded with time for students to ask questions and with a smaller group of interested students meeting with her afterward to learn more. 

Assistant Head of School Mr. Frank Tipton shared that: "She was the Secretary of the Air Force under President Obama for part of his administration. And that is the highest civilian role that you can have related to the organization. So she was leading an organization with hundreds of thousands of members, [a] massive budget, and a sweeping responsibility to help protect the United States of America." Leora Soibelman '21 added that "She has degrees in international relations...and she just published a book called Aim High."  
 
James was supposed to visit and present at Gann last year, but her flight was canceled due to a snowstorm. As such, the process of having her come to Gann has been a long time in the making. Tipton explained, "A community member contacted us to say, 'This amazing person is coming to Boston, and she has time and would be happy to come to Gann and speak if you have the availability.' And so we immediately said, 'Yes please!'"
 
Soibelman was interviewed before the assembly and explained what she thought Secretary James would speak about: "She's going to be speaking about what's it like to be a woman in power and having the degree she does and what her career's been like." Tipton said something similar: "She's in part coming to talk about her story, how she got to where she was, which I think is super interesting in and of itself. She's also here to talk about leadership and what it means to be an effective leader." Soibelman also added what she was looking forward to James' visit: "I'm just excited. I think she's a really unusual speaker to have at Gann…These kinds of worlds don't often intersect, and I'm just excited to see how everybody reacts to what she has to say and really how the school engages with her." 
 
The presentation was very well-received by students. Layla Kams '22 commented: "I thought that it was really interesting to hear, and it was interesting to hear from someone very high up and how they got there and how they had to go through hurdles to get where they were."
 
Math teacher Alex Lahr spoke of the importance of having Secretary James visit Gann: "The important thing to note about her visit is that we don't often bring military leaders into Gann—or American military personnel." Lahr added, "This is the second year out of the past three years that we're having a woman from the military come in and speak… and it's really extraordinary to have someone from this high up in the military, but also to have someone who can speak to a woman's role and a women's leadership role in an organization that's dominated by men."
 
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