Rathke is named Hampton’s Most Distinguished Alumnus

Friday, July 12, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Hampton graduate Jeffrey Rathke, who was named Most Distinguished Alumnus this year, knew he arrived as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer early on.

“I served in the White House Situation Room (in 1998-99) supporting the President and National Security Council with intelligence and analysis on a round-the-clock basis,” said Rathke, 49, of McLean, Va. “It was a tremendously exciting position, especially early in my career, to have such close contact with the talented and dedicated leaders of the national security team.”

Later, Rathke served as the director of the State Department’s press office (2014-15) and for a time as acting deputy spokesman.

Rathke left the government in 2015 after close to 25 years of service. Currently, he is president of the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

John Koenig, a former U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, worked closely with Rathke in Berlin and said he is a superb diplomat.

“He’s one of the best diplomats I’ve ever worked with,” said Koenig, 60, of Bellingham, Wash. “He’s wonderful.

“He exudes empathy. He develops friendships very easily and is extremely smart.”

Kirk Augustine, 74, of Camano Island, Wash., said Rathke is one of the most talented, resourceful and personable people he met in the Foreign Service.

“From what I can judge from this distance, he’s excelling in his current position as well,” said Augustine, a Washington, Pa. native. “Having worked with him in Berlin and Moscow and followed his career from a distance in the years since then, I’d be surprised if anyone who knew Jeff didn’t like and respect him.

“He’s intelligent and friendly and helpful and imaginative and productive and non-dogmatic and successful, despite not being at all a self promoter. While he’s no longer with the State Department, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that he might at some point be invited back into State or the NSC or congressional staff to take on significant responsibilities.”

Rathke planned a different path in high school.

“I was always interested in the news and international events growing up, but it was only toward the end of my college career that I began to make it a pursuit that would lead to a career as a diplomat,” Rathke said. “After beginning to study Russian during my junior year at Cornell in 1989, I discovered a strong interest in studying languages, not only as a skill in which I had some facility, but also as a window into understanding more deeply a foreign society that was crucial for American foreign policy.

“Like many students who did well in science and math, I assumed that I should study engineering in college, which was my major for my first year, until I realized that my engineering classmates had much more passion for those subjects than I could muster. I only began to learn about the U.S. Foreign Service as a senior in college, and I decided to pursue the career by taking the Foreign Service examination.”

Rathke, who is married and has an 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, said he returns to Hampton several times a year to visit his parents.

He spoke at Hampton’s commencement ceremony in June.

“The most important preparation I received at Hampton High School was a strong grounding in subjects such as history and government,” Rathke said. “Those classes were taught by talented and dedicated faculty members who had high expectations of their students and challenged us at every turn.

“We learned to work hard and to think critically and the result was that we accomplished much more than we would have imagined. That training was crucial for success in college (and) later, for work as a public servant.”

Hampton superintendent Dr. Michael Loughead was moved by Rathke’s commencement speech.

“His devotion to our country as a thoughtful and intelligent diplomat was inspiring,” Loughead said. “His journey from Hampton to international locations displayed for our students the confidence to reach out and make a difference in the world.”

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