It was an audience full of Seniors, students who had been plucked out of their morning classes, some half-awake, some noisily chatting with friends. The auditorium swelled, as the class of 2015 piled in, filling seats, rows, aisles. Neal S. Wolin, who served as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, strode to the podium in the front of the stage, and commanded the audience. The Seniors hushed, as he spoke of his time at ETHS. A number of them excitedly whispered to each other when he said he was on the Debate Team for four years; many soon-to-be graduates smiled, as Wolin’s young children adorably clamored for their father’s attention.
Even after Wolin and the other Distinguished Evanston Alumni had finished, the activities of the day weren’t over; Wolin toured his former high school with the President of the Investment Club, Noah Silverman, and kindly agreed to speak with Investment Club members after school.
For much of the Investment Club talk, Wolin, dressed in a suit with a large orange flower as an accoutrement, answered questions. He first spoke about his experience at ETHS, emphasizing the beauty of having so many different kinds of perspectives and personalities all under the same roof. After touring the school during the day with his family, he remarked on the impressive athletic facilities, and the wonderful opportunities available in the arts department. Most importantly, Wolin exalted the diversity of ETHS, saying that it is overwhelmingly likely that students would never see another place that is as diverse as ETHS.
Wolin received a question about his career in public service, and talked about the role his parents had on his youth, how they were both oriented towards serving the public and helping people. Besides taking a number of classes at ETHS and in college (Wolin has his B.A. from Yale College, M.Sc. from University of Oxford, and J.D. from Yale Law School), he talked about how he spent his summers engaged in helping political campaigns and doing internships. The focus he had, as is his focus now, is “How can the government make the world a better place?”
Interestingly, Wolin has taken a unique path to where he is at. He remarked that he never fixated upon a high-ranking title and planned the exact steps to get there; rather, as the opportunities came, perhaps he tried to make the most of each one. These opportunities included working with the CIA as a Special Assistant to the Director (he made the, “if I tell you, I’d have to kill you” quib), which allowed him to travel and see the world, spending eight years with the Clinton administration as the Deputy Legal Adviser to the National Security Council, Executive Director to the National Security Advisor, and General Counsel of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Wolin also served as Executive Vice President and General Counsel of The Hartford from 2001 to 2007 and President and Chief Operating Officer of The Hartford’s insurance companies from 2007 to 2009,
His perspective included details on what it was like to handle the financial crisis while working in the Treasury; Wolin detailed the crisis- saying that the financial system was on its knees, credit was tough, and that the real economy was going south- and how the Treasury worked to provide liquidity and capital to financial institutions. Our government didn’t want a chain reaction of failing establishments to plunge our financial system into the abyss; Wolin and others at Treasury acted to put in place policy that would avoid a complete meltdown, and set the economy on a healthy path so such a crisis wouldn’t happen again.
With a life spent in public service and aiding our country’s economic system, Wolin was well-prepared to answer one of the final questions posed by the Business and Investment Club: what does America do better than other countries? Why is our nation’s economy so strong? The former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury brought up four points. First, our nation is strong on integrity and principles; we have strong ethics, a guiding rule of law, especially in comparison to other countries of the world. Second, America has a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship; our nation’s industries are on the cutting edge of so many technologic and scientific fields, and the rest of the world seeks to share and benefit from our innovation and creativity. Wolin’s third point was that the United States is, and has been, a remarkably good country at absorbing the best and brightest; we are a nation of immigrants, and this distinction creates in our economy an amazing mixture of talent, energy and ideas. Finally, the U.S. education system of higher education is super good; Wolin used the examples of dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and other international countries sending their children here to go to school.
The interview ended, and Wolin shook hands with a number of Evanston Business and Investment Club members, many of them hoping they would someday be in a similar position as the former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury coming back to speak to visit our great high school.
This post was written by Ben Osterlund. Photos by Ben Silverman. Edits by Noah Silverman.