2019 Recipient Outstanding Alumni Award
WHEN JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS running for president, Jessica Feldman MC/MPA 1989 canvassed door-to-door for him, pushing her children in strollers along the streets of Evanston, Illinois. “People always let me in—they were attracted to the little children, so I’d purposely take them along,” she says, only half jokingly.
Fast forward to 1987. After a recent divorce, Feldman did not think that the everyday event of checking her mail would significantly alter her future. “The week that my divorce was finalized,” she says, “I came home—at that time I was volunteering for [then-U.S. Representative] Paul Simon and for the Women’s Association of the Chicago Symphony—and in my mailbox was a brochure from the Kennedy School. Now, I had no relationship whatsoever in my life with Harvard or the Kennedy School.” She was mystified and intrigued.
“I read it, and it sounded interesting. I decided I’d take a flier and apply,” she says.
Feldman loved her time at HKS. “What made the School and my experience special were the people I met. They were people I would never have had an opportunity to get to know otherwise”— such as members of the U.S. military and a student from Beijing whose world was plunged into disarray after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the year Feldman graduated from HKS.
After graduation, she went on to direct Chicago’s Department of Environment. Later, she volunteered for President Barack Obama’s campaign, where she was known as the “list lady” for her devotion to ensuring that the candidate’s mailing lists were accurate and up-to-date. “I worked at national headquarters for the campaign, and was called on to make sure that their lists were correct.”
Feldman cherishes her time at the Kennedy School so much that she has made a gift to the HKS Fund annually for the past 30 years. “I think if you have benefited greatly from the School, you owe them something,” she says. “At the Kennedy School, I was challenged. It was truly transformative, which is one of the reasons why I always send money every year, because I thank the Kennedy School mightily.” She is a member of the HKS Loyalty Society, which recognizes those who give annually to the HKS Fund in any amount.
“The Kennedy School changed my life,” Feldman says. “I don’t know that I ever would’ve been able to do the things that I did without that degree.”