Seth Grossman didn’t come to Penn to major in Communication. In fact, Annenberg was largely off his radar when he first arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1997.
But Grossman soon discovered a political communication niche for himself within the Annenberg community, and his Communication major set the stage for an impressive career: a Yale Law degree followed by a Supreme Court clerkship, the role of Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, and now Chief of Staff to Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California.
On May 14, Grossman will add one more accolade to the roster: a return to Annenberg as its 2017 graduation speaker.
“The faculty at Annenberg were crucial mentors who were so supportive of me, and they helped connect me to people who could propel me forward in my career,” says Grossman.
As a sophomore, Grossman took his first Communication course with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D., Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Grossman says that class, Introduction to Political Communication, opened his eyes “to the fact that you could study political communication in a systematic way.” He credits that experience with influencing his career choices.
Grossman also cites Children and the Media, taught by Amy Jordan, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, as particularly impactful, as well as conversations with David Eisenhower, J.D., Director of the Institute for Public Service, and Albert R. Hunt, Annenberg Lecturer and Executive Editor of Bloomberg News. Interested in attending law school, Grossman says Eisenhower and Hunt helped him imagine how he could be a lawyer who worked on public issues and governance.
While at Penn, Grossman interned for President Clinton in the White House Speechwriting Office, including an assignment to work on the 1999 and 2000 State of the Union addresses.
After graduation, Grossman received his J.D. from Yale Law School and clerked for two different judges on the United States Court of Appeals (Ninth and Second Circuits respectively) before spending a year clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Grossman then spent just over three years serving in the General Counsel’s office at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. He began as Chief of Staff to the General Counsel, rising to Deputy General Counsel and finally Counselor to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Grossman is particularly proud of being part of the team that developed and implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which offers protection to undocumented people who arrived in the U.S. as children.
“We only had 60 days to get the program up and running, which for a government program of that scope is crazy,” says Grossman. “It was incredibly hard work, but it was worth it.”
When Napolitano was tapped to head the University of California, Grossman went with her. As her Chief of Staff, he helps administer a massive university system composed of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three national laboratories, and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program. He also plays a lead role in UC’s Global Food Initiative, which focuses on solutions for food security, health, and sustainability.
He credits his time at Annenberg for providing the foundation – through coursework and mentorship – that prepared him to pursue mission oriented professional opportunities.
Public service – and an Annenberg connection – run in the family. Grossman’s younger brother, Jordan (C’08), who was also a Communication major, just completed a tenure as the Chief of Staff for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Seth Grossman will speak at the Communication Major Graduation Ceremony on May 14, 2017 from 10-11am at the Zellerbach Theater of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. In March, invitations will be sent to the families of graduating seniors.