Former top DHS official closes 2019-20 C-Suite series

Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart
Elaine Duke has flown on Air Force One and has participated in meetings at the White House and at Camp David. The former acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided an hour of insight and inspiration to the Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart community April 22 during the final program of our second annual “Imagine Yourself in the C-Suite” series. Duke served as the agency’s acting secretary for about four months during her tenure as DHS’ deputy secretary from April 2017 to April 2018 as part of her nearly three decades of federal government service.
Over the course of that service, Duke was honored with the DHS Presidential Meritorious Rank Award, the DHS Secretary’s Medal, the TSA Silver Medal for Customer Service, the Department of the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Distinguished Public Service Medal.

Her C-Suite presentation, the latest opportunity for our students to learn from a highly accomplished woman, was delayed a couple of weeks and switched to a virtual format due to COVID-19. During an interview by her niece, senior Mariana Noble, and the question-and-answer session that followed, Duke shared stories and offered advice based on her professional experiences aimed at motivating her audience of girls and young women to explore high-level business executive roles.

In response to a question from Noble, Duke said the most challenging decisions she made as DHS’ acting secretary were immigration-related, specifically those dealing with Temporary Protected Status and the DACA program. “While my heart went out to these people, my job was to enforce the laws on the books,” she said. “I really hope the country will take a look at these laws. I think we can all agree that our current immigration system is broken.”

Duke said being named acting secretary of DHS came as a “total shock” to her. She had returned to the federal government just three months earlier to serve as the agency’s deputy secretary after having retired from her lengthy public service. “It was a real challenge that provided a learning moment about myself,” Duke said. “The roles of deputy secretary and acting secretary are quite different. While I felt I did a good job as acting secretary, I soon began to realize that I wasn’t right for the position because I’m not cut out to be a politician. I feel I’m more loyal to the country than I could be to any administration’s political agenda.”

A central theme of Duke’s presentation was that “work on being a good leader is never done.” Her advice to students interested in a career of public service included pursuing the many internship opportunities that are available. And even though her public service career was highly successful, she was quick to add that her Christian beliefs guided sincere efforts not to sacrifice family for career.

Duke has served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council and as a strategic advisor to the Government Technology and Services Coalition, assisting small and mid-tier businesses in the federal sector. She has taught acquisition at American University.

While this concludes the 2019-20 events, planning is well underway for next year’s “Imagine Yourself in the C-Suite” series. Efforts are underway to reschedule the March 12 public forum that would have featured distinguished Woodlands Academy alumna Mary Erdoes ‘85, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s asset and wealth management division. Named by American Banker "the most powerful woman in finance," Erdoes, who has led the company’s investment management and private banking arm for the past decade, was to have been joined by Wan Ling Martello, co-founder and partner at BayPine, a recently launched private equity firm, during the program that was postponed due to COVID-19 precautions.

“Imagine Yourself in the C-Suite” consists of a few presentations to Woodlands Academy students each school year that include one public forum open to girls from other schools in and around Lake Forest as well. 
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Schools of the Sacred Heart share in the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart as articulated in the Goals and Criteria. The structure supporting Sacred Heart education in Canada and the United States includes the Conference of Sacred Heart Education and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools.  Together they provide services and programs to ensure vitality of mission for the member schools sponsored by the Society of the Sacred Heart.