‘Let’s get to work;’ Alumni serve in Biden administration


Gen. Lloyd Austin III will be making history as both the first Black Secretary of Defense and Webster alum in a cabinet position. Jesse Lawder, 2003 graduate, also joins Austin in the Biden administration.

Two Webster alumni now part of the Biden administration. Gen. Lloyd Austin III will serve as defense secretary. Jesse Lawder, a 2003 graduate, will serve as the deputy assistant secretary for labor and public affairs.

Austin graduated in 1989 from Webster’s Platte City campus with a master’s degree in management and leadership. His confirmation to the position marks a historic moment — he is the first Black defense secretary to serve in the nearly 75 years the position has existed. He is also the first Webster graduate to serve in a White House cabinet position.

“As the first Black man to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, he is a history maker, and we [the university] congratulate him,” Chancellor Elizabeth Stroble wrote in an email to The Journal. 

The university has honored Austin twice. In 2010, Austin was named a “notable alum” and in 2013, Stroble and President Julian Schuster personally delivered the “Distinguished Alumni” award he had won in 2012. The Distinguished Alumni award is given to an alumni who is the first to do something in their profession.

“Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has accomplished a number of groundbreaking achievements in his career, which is why the university has honored him twice,” Stroble wrote. “We are proud that he has been tapped for this significant leadership role.”

The secretary of defense assists the president with matters of national security and the military. Austin was confirmed by the Senate with a vote of 93-2. The two opposing senators were Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Missouri senator Josh Hawley. 

“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let’s get to work,” Austin tweeted after his confirmation on Jan. 22.

Gen. Lloyd Austin III is sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris as the first Black defense secretary. Austin is one of two alumni who have been appointed to the Biden administration. Austin is
joined by Jesse Lawder, a 2003 graduate, who will serve as the deputy assistant secretary for labor and public affairs. Photo contributed by the White House.

Austin is joined in the administration by Lawder. Lawder was previously the vice president of marketing and communications for Planned Parenthood. He also had ties to the Obama administration, serving as the chief of staff for the Office of Public Affairs.

“I am honored to be taking on this new challenge, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work supporting the Biden Administration and the workers across this great country,” Lawder said to media representatives after his swearing-in.

Lawder described his position as a “senior executive service” job, saying he will be senior communications advisor to the secretary of labor. Along with the assistant secretary, the two lead a team of 60 federal employees to promote workforce programs in the department.

Lawder got his start in public service after volunteering for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He volunteered, then was eventually hired on the staff. He volunteered for the Obama-Biden transition team, working with the review team for National Security agencies, with his focus on helping prepare the Obama administration to run the Department of Defense. 

From there, he moved to the Labor Department, after a  senior advisor asked. Lawder started out as a communications person, working with the media and promoting veterans’ employment and other work. In 2010, he moved to focus on workers’ health and safety, leaving after seven-and-a-half years when President Trump took office in 2017. Now, joining the Biden administration, Lawder enters a new career and a new purpose.

“Public service is a great honor for anyone who chooses a life of service. Working in this administration – at this time in our country – will be the most important work I will likely ever be a part of,” Lawder wrote to The Journal in an email.

The work the two alumni will do under President Biden will focus on his mission to unify a divided nation.  Lawder and Austin will bring Webster roots to the White House, making history in their work.  

“We are proud of the many Webster alumni who have gone on to prominence in their fields and celebrate this moment when outstanding Webster grads will work in the highest levels of public service in the country,” Stroble wrote in her email. “They are a testament to the value of a Webster degree, their readiness to serve and the convergence of opportunity that welcomed them.”


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