On Feb. 9, St. John’s welcomed Washington, DC, Attorney General Karl Racine ’81 to campus to speak to students and alumni about ethical leadership.
In 2014, Racine became the first elected attorney general of the District of Columbia. In this position, he leverages his 25 years of legal and leadership experience to advise the mayor and District agencies, defend the city in court and use the law to advance the public interest. His legal career has included working in the DC Public Defender Service, serving as associate White House counsel during the first Clinton administration and practicing white-collar and commercial litigation with leading law firms. Racine was the first African-American managing partner of a top-100 US law firm, Venable LLP, where he led a team of more than 600 attorneys, and he has also served on the District’s Judicial Nomination Commission. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.
In the morning, Racine spoke to the freshman class about ethical leadership as part of the Entrepreneurial Center for Innovation and Leadership
. He began by sharing his own story – how he and his family immigrated to the United States from Haiti when he was very young, the sacrifices his parents made for Racine and his sister and the role the Catholic church played in their lives. He then spoke of his decision to attend St. John’s and the extraordinary experience he had at the school, sharing anecdotes about two of his favorite faculty members, Howard Dent and Joe Gallagher.
He told the students that it was during law school that he discovered he could use the power of the law to help those in need. As attorney general, Racine has fought for juvenile justice reform, seeking to ensure that young people without resources or support do not fall into criminal activity. He has also prioritized the preservation of safe and habitable affordable housing and brought lawsuits against corporate wrongdoers.
Racine discussed with students that ethical leadership involves empathy, compassion, inclusivity, communication, commitment, setting high standards, being open-minded and working hard to give people the opportunity to get beyond their personal circumstances. Through personal examples, he related that leadership is doing the right thing, regardless of whether it is the popular thing, being honest about your own strengths and challenges and then overcoming those challenges through discipline and hard work.
Racine then spoke to St. John’s alumni as the featured guest for the annual Distinguished Speaker Series. Hosted by the St. John’s Alumni Council, this event provides St. John’s graduates with a chance to network and hear from successful individuals in fields such as business and politics. Previous speakers include Chris Stevens ’70, one of the founders of Keurig; Raul Fernandez ’84, chairman of ObjectVideo and vice chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment; and Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, DC.
At the luncheon event, Racine again spoke of his experience at St. John’s and his time as attorney general, specifically focusing on the ways he incorporates the school’s core Lasallian values into his work. He also fielded questions from attendees on a wide variety of subjects, including sex trafficking, congressional involvement in Washington, DC, the authority to prosecute criminals in the District, the “Ban the Box” campaign, the new nominee for the Supreme Court and whether or not the NCAA should pay college athletes.