[WE Talk] Jordan Jacobsen – Inspired to Take Positive Action

Jordan Jacobsen

Inspired to Take Positive Action

On this episode:

  • the benefits and results of “slow learning” in a fast-paced world
  • watching one’s children thrive in one’s own Waldorf School alma mater
  • how a Waldorf education inspires the desire to do good and be of service in the world
  • how a Waldorf education supports the building of strong and healthy relationships and the development of compassion and empathy
  • how Waldorf students see opportunity, connect with others, then take action

Episode Transcript:

Nita Davanzo: Hello, and welcome to WE Talk. A podcast that explores the role of Waldorf Education in helping children, parents, and families thrive in an ever-changing world. WE Talk is brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School, and this is your host Nita June Davanzo.

On today’s episode, we are ever so pleased to speak with Jordan Jacobsen, a Shining Mountain Waldorf graduate from the class of 2001. After graduating high school from Shining Mountain Waldorf, Jordan attended Connecticut College and then Georgetown University Law Center. He’s held several government positions, first as an honors paralegal at the federal trade commission and then as a political and leadership analysis at the central intelligence agency.

During law school Jordan also briefly served in the Obama’s administration office of science and technology policy. Jordan has most recently returned to Boulder with his growing family, with his two children attending Shining Mountain Waldorf School. He is currently working as an attorney in private practice focused on complex business litigation and international law. We bring Jordan to the show today to talk about how he, as a Waldorf alum, finds balance in his ever-changing world and how he became and blossomed into the man he is today.

Welcome Jordan, thank you ever so much for being here.

Jordan Jacobsen: Well, hi Nita. Thank you so much for having me. It’s really great to be on the podcast.

Nita Davanzo: As I noted, you have spent a fair amount of time in New England and in DC after years spent at Shining Mountain Waldorf School. In a nutshell, what brought you back to your hometown?

Jordan Jacobsen: We moved back to Boulder for a lot of reasons, not least among them was to come back to Shining Mountain Waldorf School. I had a really positive experience there and with two kids … We came back when Cecilia was pregnant with our second. A big pull for us was coming back to the school and being able to enroll our kids at Shining Mountain.

Nita Davanzo: Nice. Take me back even a little further, Jordan. When you were a senior at Shining Mountain, did you foresee even coming back to where you are right now being back

with your children at school or even just taking the career path that you did? Where were you in your mind and in your heart when you graduated Shining Mountain Waldorf School?

Jordan Jacobsen: It’s funny. Thinking back to where I was when I graduated, I don’t think I had any idea at that time all that I would be doing now and all that I would have experienced. I think I had some appreciation for sure that I had received a wonderful education at Shining Mountain, but I still didn’t fully understand how incredible it was and how many doors it would open for me.

If someone had told me then you’re going to go on to get to do a couple internships for the United Nations in Vietnam and Germany, you’re going to get to work at the Federal Trade Commission at the CIA, you’ll be writing briefs that will go into the presidential daily briefs and will be provided to President Bush and President Obama, I truly would not have believed that person. The opportunities have just totally exceeded my expectations. I think it’s really hard to understand how lucky you are when you graduate from a place like Shining Mountain Waldorf School.

Nita Davanzo: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because in my interviews and connections with other alumni from a variety of different Waldorf schools, that’s generally the note. It’s almost like the appreciation for one’s Waldorf education grows in direct proportion to the time since graduation. Thinking about that now, how old are you? You graduated in 2001.

Jordan Jacobsen: That’s right.

Nita Davanzo: So 33?

Jordan Jacobsen: (laughs) I’m a little older than that, but we can do a 33. Mid-thirties.

Nita Davanzo: (laughs) It all starts to blur away I feel like as we get older. Thinking back on that now, what are some of the things that you feel like really set you up today for both what you’re doing in law and all the work that you did in DC also. Was it your relationship with your teachers, your relationship with your classmates, specific classes? What do you feel like you hold on to and really think about now in terms of are there specific moments or specific courses that you look back on and think, I’m so glad I had that.

Jordan Jacobsen: Yeah, I do think that specific teachers and classes matter a lot, but I also think that just the overall pedagogy of Waldorf results in … It results in a wonderful education that’s very applicable to the challenges that we all face in today’s world where things are changing so quickly. I think the format matters a lot. I look back and I think about the block system that we had in high school and the way that we were encouraged to really focus in on specific subjects for three or four weeks at a time. That is something that is such a luxury in today’s world where we’re all pulled in so many different directions.

Certainly, in my career, I’m always trying to balance multiple cases at the same time. I think that that format that Waldorf provides really encourages deeper learning and encourages longer attention spans and it’s a wonderful education. I don’t know how it is, but somehow it seems even more relevant and more applicable to a world where technology is driving us all to distraction to a greater degree.

Nita Davanzo: Right. Right. Well, looking back at what you’ve done too in all the briefs and pieces that you’ve written, that’s something that you shared with me in conversation a few months ago, just that actually you really enjoy writing. In the things that I’ve read that you’ve written, you’re also quite good at it, very eloquent, very able to express yourself in words.

Do you feel like that that’s something that was planted in you at Shining Mountain? And is that something that others in your field also have a strong capacity in? Do you feel similar or different to in your ability and talent to write in comparison with some of your peers?

Jordan Jacobsen: I do think that Shining Mountain gave me a leg up over students who had come up from traditional prep schools or traditional public schools. I think going into undergrad I noticed a significant difference in my ability to write versus what other students were struggling with. You asked about colleagues at my firm. I’m surrounded by absolutely wonderful writers. I’m constantly learning from really great writers.

At the CIA, my role was in the directorate of intelligence, which is basically a part of the CIA that is a writing institution. That’s what they do. We would take lots of information and try to distill it down into digestible written format that can be briefed or delivered in written format to policy makers. I think I’ve been very lucky in my professional sphere to be surrounded by really excellent writers. I think that the way I got here certainly, I benefited from great schooling at Shining Mountain and really good teachers who helped to teach me how to write well.

Nita Davanzo: Jordan, I really appreciate what you’re saying too about this … The word that you used was luxury, that we had the luxury of really being able to focus on one thing especially now in this really high-paced world. Looking at the journey of your life thus far, in your young age of mid-thirties, if you were to just take a look back now at the themes, the choices, the challenges, could you put a name or a few words to possibly the impetus that guided you to make any of these choices? Was it a sense of idealism?

Was it a sense of you doing right in the world? Was it a just a gut intuition in making your choices to navigate?

Jordan Jacobsen: Yeah, that’s always one of the most challenging questions. I feel like I’m having to write a college essay again, but I think in retrospect, I had that wonderful grounding coming from Shining Mountain. I graduated in 2001, went to college that fall. In my first week of college September 11th happened. In retrospect, although I was very lucky that no one in my family was harmed, I think that that did have a pretty profound impact on who I became and choices I made in terms of my studies and my career.

I think part of the reason I may have ended up studying international relations anyway. I was already very interested in foreign languages and was very excited about opportunities to live overseas. The 9/11 attacks and just the whole focus of our country at that time to really help to underline the importance of studying international relations for me. I think for sure that was a huge factor in encouraging me to pursue work at the CIA.

I think a lot of people responded to 9/11 in an understandable way of really feeling a significant amount of fear and recoiling away from the world in a lot of ways. I feel indebted to Shining Mountain for giving me the tools to empathize with that feeling and have some of that feeling, but also to respond by wanting to learn more, greater understanding regarding others in the world, to try to understand what the historical and socioeconomic and religious root causes of terrorism were and to continue to learn foreign languages and to, shortly thereafter, travel to Southeast Asia and live over there for six months and spent some time in Germany as well. I think that that really opened a lot of doors for me professionally right after college, being able to go and do some very interesting work in Washington and overseas.

Nita Davanzo: I love that image for you of leaning to these challenges that are coming towards you, of you not backing away from them, but actually seeing an opportunity to help and to give back in someway and feeling sparked by the events. I’m sure you felt fear as we all do, but there’s what we choose to with that, what action we choose to take with those emotions that come up after any of these really tragic events.

You have been a lot of places in the world. You have seen a lot of different things in the world. You just noted that you spent time in Southeast Asia, in Germany, certainly on the east coast, now back here, probably a lot of other places that you haven’t even mentioned. When you think about your children and how they are coming into the world and how they are experiencing the world today, what are some of your deepest wishes for them in how you hope that they can grow into the world, and how you hope that they can really come and flourish into their being in the world?

Jordan Jacobsen: I dropped Sydney off at kindergarten this morning at the same White Dove kindergarten class that I attended 30 years ago. I think that one of the most important lessons to learn coming from a place like Shining Mountain and coming from a place like Boulder. It is such a wonderful safe environment to grow up in. I really hope that my kids benefit from that environment that allows you to grow and allows you to be a kid for a little longer hopefully. Then I also hope that they have similar opportunities to see the world, learn about others, learn empathy for others, and also to really try to understand how much gratitude I feel for what I’ve had and understand how lucky we are to have started in this wonderful place.

Nita Davanzo: Well, that wonderful place is certainly equally blessed to have you and your family there within it. Jordan, now to turn away from education and family and to touch base and connect on some of the bigger issues and bigger dilemmas and challenges that are facing us right now in the United States. I wonder what insights you might have, having served under two different presidents, on our current presidential situation.

Jordan Jacobsen: I served in government during both Republican and Democratic administrations. Certainly, my roles were both non-partisan roles in both administrations, so now I really could not have conceived of a US president who so directly assaults our first amendment and also has directly assaulted civil servants along with journalists.

I think that President Trump’s disrespect for truth directly contradicts, not only the mission of journalists but also of the CIA, where I worked, and actually of the intelligence community more broadly, which would include state department and DOD. To put together the presidential daily brief, the CIA faces the daily challenge of gathering as much information as possible from sources all over the world but classified in public, and then deciphering the truth from that overwhelming volume of incomplete data.

Donald Trump’s attack on the truth runs directly contrary to what I see as the very mission of the CIA. I look at this administration and I continue to have utmost respect for the non-political civil servants and the officers who are continued to do the work that’s required to keep our country safe. But I think that work is increasingly difficult under this government.

Nita Davanzo: Yeah. Taking a little seed of what you just said there and bringing it to my next question, you talked about truth and bringing out the truth and following that truth and bringing it to light. A question more based around your work as an attorney, I think many of us … There’s probably a thousand different jokes how lawyers and attorneys take a pretty bad rap.

Jordan Jacobsen: Right. There should be. (laughs)

Nita Davanzo: (laughs) What are the positives and the joys of working as an attorney. What initially drew you into that field?

Jordan Jacobsen: I certainly don’t want to defend all attorneys and many of those jokes are warranted. In all seriousness, I think this is an incredibly important time to be practicing law. For many of the reasons we just discussed, I think it’s never been more important than it is today to use the tool that lawyers have to protect things like free speech and equal protection and press freedoms and other anti-discrimination laws.

One of the things that have made me very proud of last year has been the way that my law firm has really been front and center in responding to President Trump’s immigration crackdown, which frankly, is unconstitutional, I think. There are a lot of less newsy ways that lawyers are working every day to try to help out. I feel really proud to have helped a woman from Afghanistan attain refugee status last year. I represented a few kids in a pro bono case where I served as their guardian ad litem and then Washington DC.

Those little things help to offset some of the less fun parts of being a lawyer. Overall, I think it is a career that many graduates from Shining Mountain Waldorf School would actually be very well prepared to pursue. I think Shining Mountain Waldorf School prepared me to particularly well, in part, just because the school encouraged me to just love learning. More than other careers, I think law requires you to constantly learn new subjects and just have an open mind to new challenges.

Shining Mountain Waldorf School instills in its students this love of learning that is so broadly applicable to many of these careers. I also think that, for all our talk just now that pursuit of truth, that it’s really the case that you do come to the final truth. I think the key is that you value the pursuit of it even if arriving of it is always something that you’re striving toward rather than actually attaining. I find that the vocabulary and the skills that Shining Mountain gave me allows me to communicate ambiguity and complexity in legal cases and also at the CIA previously where others were perhaps more inclined to seek categorical black and white answers to complex questions.

Nita Davanzo: That actually reminds me of … It was a student who was in my sister’s class who graduated three years above me in ’96. He chose in eighth grade to go to Boulder High School instead of continuing on at Shining Mountain for … It as mainly athletic reasons at the time. I remember talking with him and asking him about it during his time in high school and he said … Speaking of black and white, he said he felt like his time in the public school was black and white and that his time at Shining Mountain Waldorf School had been the full color spectrum of the rainbow, which I just love that he noted that. I remember really thinking about that a lot at the time.

Jordan Jacobsen: I think anytime you’re studying from a textbook or trying to teach to a test or really going for right or wrong answers and multiple choice questions, I think you are going to lose some of the spectrum of colors that comes from a more holistic approach to learning that Waldorf represents for me.

Nita Davanzo: Absolutely. What we just need more of in the world, it’s this compassion and tolerance. It’s easier to categorize and put things into boxes to make sense and order systematize things, but in the natural world and as human beings within it, don’t necessarily always fit in those.

Jordan Jacobsen: We are incredibly good at trying to seek order out of chaos. Sometimes when things are very complicated our tendency is to try to overly simplified answers. I do think that Waldorf encourages a more holistic look at complicated issues.
Nita Davanzo: Well Jordan, next time I see you I think I’m going to call you the “Knight Who Pursue’s Truth.” Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day in our very busy lives to connect. I really appreciate it.

Jordan Jacobsen: My pleasure.

Nita Davanzo: Thank you for listening to WE Talk, brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School. Nita Davanzo was editor, producer and host. Introduction music was created by sound.com.com If you’d like to be interviewed, have a suggestion for an episode ahead or simply wish to share feedback or ideas, please email us at wetalk@smwaldorf.org.

- Sarah Gillis, SMWS Class of 2012 and Sr. Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX

“I feel like one of the really important things that you get out of a Waldorf education is curiosity—curiosity to go and learn and explore what’s out there in the world. I fell into engineering and a path that I don’t think I would have anticipated, but having an arts background where you’re bringing creativity and imagination into problem-solving, there’s a really incredible synergy between those.”

- Sarah Gillis, SMWS Class of 2012 and Sr. Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX

Shining Mountain Waldorf School Unveils New High School Campus in North Boulder: Grand Opening Event Friday, May 10, 2024