The Observer

CHS alumna serves as Obama’s personal secretary

By Eshe Hill, Features Editor

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By 8 a.m. on Monday morning, Katie Johnson is up and has had her morning coffee. She gets to the office and sees what is on her schedule for the day. Just like every other secretary, she is in charge of making sure her boss’ day runs smoothly. The catch? Her desk is right outside the Oval Office.

When 1999 CHS alumna Johnson walked through CHS’ doors for the last time, she had no idea that one day she would be President Obama’s personal secretary.

Churchill Years
According to Johnson, she “always wanted to be in politics,” and she worked on campaigns even in high school, including the campaign for former Maryland House of Delegates member Mark Shriver.

At CHS, Johnson was involved in field hockey, soccer, lacrosse and yearbook. Her favorite subjects were English, math and history.

“There is a historical nature to what we do [in politics,] so it is only natural [that I like history],” Johnson said. “It also had the strongest teachers.”

Johnson’s parents have always supported her desire to go into politics and have helped shape her political opinions.

“I’m definitely the most politically active one in my family,” Johnson said. “My parents think [what I do] is great.”

Although Johnson has not been back to CHS since the renovations, she still stays in contact with her high school friends.

“[There are] seven people who keep in touch,” Johnson said. “I missed the five-year reunion because I was working on a campaign but I’m going to the 10-year one.”

According to Johnson, CHS prepared her well for the rest of her educational life.

“CHS is a great, big school with different opportunities,” Johnson said. “It gave me a basis of education [that I’ll use] for the rest of my life.”

Post-Churchill Years
After graduating, Johnson wasted no time in gaining experience in the political world.

After her freshman year at Wellesley University, where she was a political science major and economics minor, Johnson worked as an intern for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Manhattan.

“[I did] a lot of door knocking and a little press work,” Johnson said. “In politics the first job is a field worker to see [how many Democratic] supporters [we have.]”

In 2004, Johnson was the field director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which works to help elect democrats.

While on a trip to D.C., she met current Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who asked her to work as his assistant.

“I worked for him for two years and then he asked me what I wanted to do [next],” Johnson said. “I said I wanted to work on the Obama campaign.”

Obama Years
“I had been talking to people about how they wanted the White House organized,” Johnson said. “I kind of knew it was coming. [Obama] formally asked me [to be his personal secretary] in the Washington Transition Office. I was nervous because I hadn’t been around him that much. It was [our] first time one-on-one.”

Although Johnson had been ready for the job, she was surprised about how routine the President’s day was.

“It follows a relatively similar pattern,” Johnson said. “If something needs to be cancelled or moved around, I do that. I’m in charge or making sure the day runs smoothly.”

Though Johnson does not travel with the president, her day does not stop when he is out of town.

“Only his security travels with him,” Johnson said. “[While he is gone,] I catch up on things, give tours and order gifts.”

In the past year Johnson’s life has changed in some ways.

“People in Washington know who you are, but only if they are in politics,” she said. “You’re always on call and always have to have your phone on.”

Johnson remembers the Saturday before the inauguration, which was the first time she walked into the White House to begin her duties.

“At first it was overwhelming,” Johnson said. “There is so much you have to know just before using the phone. There’s so much history. Your office is right outside the Oval Office and [you have to] figure out how it’s going to work. When the president walks in he’s the Commander-in-Chief and needs to have a working office.”

Future Years
As a kid, Johnson always wanted to be one thing: Chief of Staff.

“I’m not so sure about that anymore,” she said. “In politics there’s no clear trajectory. There’s a whole gamut of things you can do.”

Although Johnson does not know exactly where she will be in 10 years, she does have advice for people hoping to break into the political world.

“Immediately go out and work on a campaign,” she said. “See how things operate and be in contact with people who have done it before to learn more. You can never predict where you will end up.”

While Johnson confesses that if she could change one thing about her job it would be the hours, she admits that it is a “pretty good gig.”

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CHS alumna serves as Obama’s personal secretary