Hillsdale graduates are filing into key positions in the Trump administration, ranging from speechwriters to legal counsel.
“I admire them all,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said. “These are fine jobs of high service for accomplished, experienced young people.”
At least four graduates have taken roles in the new administration. But with numerous Cabinet confirmations still unapproved, there are possibly more in the near future.
After Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ historic tie-breaking confirmation on Tuesday, Josh Venable, a graduate of the class of 2002, became the chief of staff for the Department of Education.
Venable was a politics major at Hillsdale and was heavily involved with politics as a student. According to an April 2001 issue of The Collegian, Venable was elected as a sophomore to serve as the co-chair of the the Michigan Federation of College Republicans. It was the first time that a Hillsdale student had ever held the title.
“Our main goal was to get one Hillsdale representative on the board,” Venable said in the article. “I think it is important to increase involvement and focus our membership on focused message.”
Following his time at Hillsdale, Venable immersed himself in the Michigan Republican Party, serving as its deputy political director, director of strategic planning, finance director, operations director, and chief of staff. In 2011, he served as deputy finance director of the Republican National Committee.
“Josh was very interested in politics and impressed a lot of people in Michigan politics, including the DeVos family,” Professor of Politics Mickey Craig said of his former student. “Whatever he does, he does well.”
As reported in The Washington Post, Venable helped prepare DeVos for her Senate confirmation hearing in January, which many considered to be a public relations disaster. Venable did not return request for comment.
But Venable wasn’t the only Hillsdale graduate appointed last week. David Morrell ’07 is serving as associate counsel to the president, a spokesperson from Arnn’s office confirmed.
In an interview with The Collegian, Morrell said White House counsel Donald McGhan hired him to help identify people for legal jobs worthy of the administration’s agencies.
“It’s a real honor and privilege to serve in this capacity,” Morrell said. “Hillsdale really helped me create a disciplined way of looking through legal reasoning. You need to have a certain level of confidence to have a job like this, and Hillsdale helped create that.”
Morrell studied history at Hillsdale and served as president of the Student Federation. After his senior year, Morrell attended Pepperdine University School of Law but was later accepted to Yale Law School, so he transferred. Later, Morrell clerked for Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
“David is an intelligent, thoughtful, and interesting young man,” said Mark Kalthoff, dean of faculty and professor of history. “We spent hours in conversation about history, theology, and other ideas. It was clear that when he went to law school that he was going to great things.”
In addition to Venable and Morrell, two other alumni have taken on a behind-the-scenes role in the administration.
Brittany Baldwin ’12 and Stephen Ford ’10 are serving as speechwriters for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, respectively. They did not reply to requests for comment.
Baldwin majored in American studies and was actively involved in campus clubs and organizations. She was a sister in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, a George Washington Fellow, and the vice president of her graduating class.
“Brittany was an outstanding student,” Professor of Politics Kevin Portteus said. “She was diligent, friendly, and had good character.”
Baldwin also wrote for The Collegian. In a November 2001 issue of the campus newspaper, Baldwin wrote an opinion piece titled “The Conservative Case for Lowering the Drinking Age.”
“Many conservatives hoped that raising the drinking age to 21 would stabilize society again,” Baldwin said in the article. “Although this policy may have had conservative intentions, in reality, it prevents young adults from learning responsibility and delays adulthood in America.”
Before he was writing speeches for the vice president, Ford was actively involved in the Mu Alpha music fraternity as well as Hillsdale’s debate team.
A 2007 issue of The Collegian wrote a profile piece about Ford and how he spent one of his summers interning for the Rio Grande Foundation, a research institute for free-market principles in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The amount of research that one will have to do for the think tank will be quite taxing,” Ford said in the article. “But I feel that this will be a great opportunity to write about something I love, to speak about something I love, and to come to a greater understanding of why I love them and want to pursue them as worthy goals.”
When asked if he was surprised about the numerous appointments and jobs take on by Hillsdale students, Morrell said he was proud but not surprised.
“Hillsdale students set themselves apart,” Morrell said. “They’re imaginative, they’re good at writing, and they’re principled. That stands out in this administration.”