Rockbridge Academy Blog
Skills that Matter—How My Education Paved My Way
When I graduated from Rockbridge Academy in 2012, I had no idea how much my education would help me advance in the professional world. Now, 10 years on, I serve as chief of policy for the best governor in the country, Kristi Noem in South Dakota, and it is clear to me how much my education uniquely prepared me for this job.
For starters, since graduation I have spent my time working in and around the political world, and that means public speaking. In school, I struggled immensely with public speaking and got very nervous every time I had to speak. But in almost every class, my teachers found opportunities for all of us to practice, and slowly but surely—over the course of many years—I started to become comfortable speaking to groups and even developed tips and tricks to make my speeches effective.
I struggled immensely with public speaking and got very nervous every time I had to speak. But in almost every class, my teachers found opportunities for all of us to practice, and slowly but surely—over the course of many years—I started to become comfortable speaking to groups and even developed tips and tricks to make my speeches effective.
Today, I frequently testify in front of legislative committees, provide policy updates at state cabinet meetings, and speak on behalf of the Governor to legislators, lobbyists, and local leaders. I entered my career with a level of public speaking ability that I could never have imagined when I started high school, and I am thankful on a regular basis for this unique component of classical education.
Secondly, my education honed my writing abilities, teaching me to write concisely and make my points clear and easy to understand. My teachers insisted that we create an outline before we started writing to make sure our arguments were well-structured and supported. To this day, I still outline my thoughts before putting pen to paper. Now, I write memos about complicated subjects in a way that is easy to understand. I draft testimony, letters to elected officials in Washington, and even emails that make my ask or argument clear.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my classical education made it possible for me to both develop—and advance—a clear and consistent worldview. Through our philosophy, logic, and rhetoric classes, we learned the different ways of looking at the world and the assumptions that are built into any perspective. During our senior year, we took a class on current events that allowed us to start applying these ideas to what was actually happening in the world. This gave me a huge head start in understanding not just what was going on, but why it was happening—and the philosophical foundation behind different proposed solutions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my classical education made it possible for me to both develop—and advance—a clear and consistent worldview. Through our philosophy, logic, and rhetoric classes, we learned the different ways of looking at the world and the assumptions that are built into any perspective.
In South Dakota, state government consists of 20 different agencies that cover areas like agriculture, education, finance, healthcare, and public safety. Part of my job is to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. There’s no way I can be an expert in all of these different fields … but my classical education has helped me develop and articulate clear, consistent principles that I can apply in a range of situations. This helps me ask the right questions and provide the right guidance to make sure we’re leading a government that respects the rights of the people and gets out of the way as much as possible.
I am thankful every day for the opportunity to wake up and do the job I’m doing. And I know without a doubt that I would not have had this opportunity without the skills my education taught me.
Rachel Wallen Oglesby serves as Chief of Policy in the South Dakota Governor’s Office and is a member of the Governor’s executive team. She oversees the implementation of the governor’s agenda across all policy areas and state government agencies. She grew up in Maryland, graduated from Rockbridge Academy and Wake Forest University, and holds a master’s in public policy from George Mason University. This article was published in the winter 2023 issue of The Classical Difference magazine.
The Why Behind Grand Tour
Ever since kindergarten, my fellow students and I looked forward to Grand Tour as the highlight of our Rockbridge Academy careers. From Latin and history classes to field trips to cultural feasts and soirée dinners, all of our education foreshadowed our class trip to Greece and Italy in the weeks following our junior year. When I try to explain Grand Tour to family or friends outside of this community, I usually refer to it as “a sort of senior trip.” The truth is, though, Grand Tour is not just your typical senior trip—a relaxing week at the beach or skiing in the mountains. Grand Tour enriches both our classical education and Christian relationships within each class.
First, Grand Tour is distinctly classical. We don’t visit England, Germany, Israel, or anywhere else directly involved in our national or religious history; we visit Greece and Italy. This confuses some people: isn’t our recent history more important and influential for us now in America? After all, they would say, Greece and Rome haven’t affected monumental worldwide events for thousands of years. Some of this is true, but, as a classical education emphasizes, what did happen way back when irreversibly shaped the entire western world. We see Greek and Roman culture in our government, art, architecture, language, sciences, philosophy—the list goes on and on. For hundreds of years, as Europe formed out of the chaos of the Dark Ages, leaders looked back to authors like Plato, Aristotle, and Vergil to see how a successful and prosperous country should run, and how its leaders should act.
This past summer, the school worked hard to make sure both the classes of 2022 and 2023 could experience the Grand Tour:
Throughout our Rockbridge education, we study these authors, thinkers, and cultures, tracing their influence all the way to the modern era. Instead of only learning from our immediate past, we go back to creation, where everything began. We then move to Greece and Rome, where ideas and ideals were more developed. Lastly, we see how all these past events have impacted today, where we can make a difference. This is what separates classical Christian education from other models: an integration of God’s sovereign story into every class and all of history.
Second, Grand Tour is not only educational for the mind; it also fosters a precious brother-and-sisterhood between classmates and fellow believers. In fact, I saw the presence of Christ more strongly in our informal Bible study and hymn singing the Sunday we spent ferrying across the Adriatic Sea than in many luxurious cathedrals. Relationally, my whole class grew in leaps and bounds.
In May, before the end of school, the teachers told us to write out our “best selves” and our vision for our class’s “best self.” We then picked two accountability partners, who would encourage us to maintain those best versions throughout the trip. On our way to Delphi about a week into the trip, Mrs. Ball warned us that this was when most classes fell apart and started to get tired of each other’s company. Instead of succumbing to our tiredness and the temptation to do exactly that, we turned it into a joke: “Oh no, Drama at Delphi!” That evening, nothing had happened yet, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Still, Mrs. Ball and Mr. Keehner were not convinced and encouraged us to have “accountability sessions” with our partners in order to check on how we were doing so far. One talk led to another, and soon several of us were involved in deep conversations about our actions as individuals and as a class. We started to realize that we definitely weren’t as relational gracious as we had believed and identified some major problems with our thoughts and actions. We grew closer as we went through this sanctification process together.
That night, and successive rooftop, balcony, and garden discussions, made me more thankful than ever for a strong, supportive community of Christians who are still growing, just like me. On Grand Tour, we shared more of our hopes and struggles than we had ever been able to do before. In fact, I had the privilege of watching a dear classmate come to Christ on the trip; the new light shining from within her almost blinded me, it was so bright and evident. We hope and pray that these class experiences will enable us to better enjoy each other, lead the school, and praise our Savior for His goodness in this coming year.
Jane Farr, ’23, loves playing soccer and various intramural sports at Rockbridge as a break from studying. The rest of the time, she can usually be found reading, playing the flute, or making yummy food to share with family and friends.