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Secretary Kay Coles James Shares Her Life of Faith and Leadership at School of Public Policy Tagliaferri Dean's Distinguished Lecture

Secretary Kay Coles James

On Friday, January 26, 2024, the School of Public Policy welcomed former secretary for the Commonwealth of Virginia Kay Coles James for a keynote conversation at the Tagliaferri Dean's Distinguished Lecture. James has an extensive background in public service and government leadership.

An honorary degree recipient from the Pepperdine School of Public Policy in 2003, James’ personal and professional journey exhibits dedication, self-sacrifice, and above all, faith. “As a woman and as a strong woman, you receive a lot of push back. To know that you are the daughter of the King goes a long way to help you get through the day,” said James.

School of Public Policy Dean Pete Peterson and Secretary Kay Coles JamesA significant theme throughout the evening was acting on the calling that the Lord has placed in your life. For James, this meant remaining steadfast in her values and beliefs even when they didn’t fit into stereotypical political or social boxes. “There’s a lot about me that you could hate if you wanted to,” admitted James. “Not only Black, not only female, but the audacity to be a conservative and to be pro-life. Pick a category, there’s a lot not to like and I’ve dealt with all of that.”

James credits the opposition she faced throughout her political career with strengthening her faith and encouraged the students in attendance to passionately pursue their calling and live out their values. “As Christians we walk out what it means to be God's people in a crazy, hating world. We walk out what it means to love someone that we vehemently disagree with,” she said. 

“At a time of such polarization in our political culture, Kay is such a tremendous role model of what a faithful public leader looks like,” said Pete Peterson, the Braun Family Dean at the School of Public Policy. “We often talk about the ‘calling to public service,’ a calling placed on us by God, but Kay showed us exactly what that looks like—even through times of great trial.”

Secretary Kay Coles James

During the discussion, Peterson asked James to relive the hours following the terrorist attacks on September 11, from her position as director of US Office of Personnel Management under former president George W. Bush. In this role, James was charged with operating a government workforce of more than 3,600 employees in the face of unprecedented national fear. “The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and all I understood in that moment was that God was in control. My life and the life of all those around me were in his hands, but I had a job to do, and I could not be terrified,” she shared.

James currently serves as president at the Gloucester Institute, a foundation dedicated to educating and cultivating the next generation of leaders. She also works with the Spirit of Virginia as a senior advisor to governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin.

You can access the full conversation between Peterson and James here.