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Alumni Spotlight: Kate Lipper-Garabedian (’99)

August 8, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Kate Lipper-Garabedian (’99) is one of the Governor’s School alumni making good on part of the school’s mission: she is running for office this November. Kate was a student at Governor’s School in its early days, when it was still housed in the Thomas Jefferson building. Though she, like many, remembers the lack of toilet paper and other inconveniences, she also remembers, “the engaging and challenging curricula that the great teachers at GSGIS provided.”   She recalls, “putting Thomas Jefferson on trial in AP US History, building a popsicle stick bridge in physics, scribing literary analyses in a dual enrollment course, signing various songs (including on a homemade VHS music video) for ASL class, developing a semester-long community-based service project in senior seminar,” and more. She also looks back fondly on her circle of friends growing from middle school buddies (including many TJ students, as that was her zoned school) to include people from the whole Governor’s School geographical radius. “Many of my closest friends today are among the great people with whom I graduated,” she says.

Kate attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in English and History. After graduating from UVA, she joined Teach for America, which sent her to teach 7th grade English and reading in the Atlanta Public Schools. “During my second year, I applied to law school, intent on addressing the systemic inequities I viewed and experienced in my classroom,” she explains. She attended Emory University School of Law before transferring to Harvard Law School.

What would she tell someone interested in applying to law school? “I encourage prospective students to work for some number of years before attending law school,” she says. “When I got to law school, I treated it like a job, not an extension of undergraduate education, and that was beneficial for me in terms of academic success and general fulfillment. Additionally, it’s worth noting that HLS rejected me when I initially applied. After my 1L year, when I received a call that I’d been accepted as a transfer student, I remember the admissions officer saying, ‘It looks like we made a mistake last year!’ I suppose this is a lesson that the goals you set for yourself may not always be realized on your envisioned timeline but you should continue to pursue them nonetheless.”

After law school, Kate clerked for federal appellate judge before joining a national consulting group that focused on education law, policy, and strategy. Among her clients there were school districts and state educational agencies, associations of colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations focused on education, and higher education accreditors. After five and a half years with the consulting group, she joined the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education as the General Counsel to the State’s Secretary of Education, where she has been for the past two and a half years. Kate’s work is grounded in education law, and involves analyzing current law and assisting with developing proposed policies. She also oversees EOE’s legal compliance with the various responsibilities of a state agency – e.g., public records law, ethics requirements, and procurement.

In addition to her work as General Counsel, Kate is running for office. She is a candidate for Melrose, MA Alderman-At-Large in the November 7, 2017 election. Kate graciously answered our questions about the importance of local politics, what it’s been like running for office, and door-knocking with a four-year-old:

How did you decide to run for office? 

Growing up, both my parents were newspaper reporters, and our family dinners often included discussions of events happening at the local, state, and national levels. I learned early on that the policies our elected officials enact have powerful, long-lasting effects on communities and people. Based on this understanding, I have dedicated my professional career to public service –first as a seventh-grade public school teacher working in an economically challenged neighborhood of Atlanta (the most demanding – and rewarding – job I’ve held); and after law school, as a judicial clerk in the federal courts; a consultant working with states, school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations; and now as the General Counsel at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education where we’re committed to keeping Massachusetts students at the head of the class nationally and positioned to compete successfully in a global economy.

These days, when I sit down for nightly family dinners, the policy decisions that face Melrose are common topics with my husband Mark. I am running for the Board of Aldermen because I want Melrose to be the best it can be for our son Harrison and all our kids as they grow up here, and for all my neighbors, whether they’ve been here 90 days or 90 years. I care deeply about our City and improving the quality of life for all.

What does an Alderman-At-Large do?

The Board of Aldermen is Melrose’s city council. Of the 11 members, 4 are At-Large, which means they represent the entire City (the other 7 represent wards, or neighborhoods). Among its responsibilities, the Board of Aldermen votes on local laws, or ordinances, and approves the City’s annual budget.

What do you hope to advocate for and accomplish if you win?

I believe that Melrose generally is functioning quite well. I’m impressed by the vibrant restaurant scene, examples of smart growth and development, evidence that our school leadership is thinking about twenty-first century innovation, and improvements to our parks and open spaces. These are testaments to sound management. To continue that progress, as an Alderman-at- Large, I plan to focus on spurring economic development, strengthening our schools, sharpening the Board’s oversight of our annual City budget, and enhancing street safety.

What has been the best part of running for office?

When I look around me, I see incredible opportunities and everything we need to realize them: both the knowledge and experience of neighbors who have invested in Melrose for generations and the fresh perspectives and energy of the many young families like mine who have fallen in love with this community. This has been reinforced throughout my campaign as I meet with families across the City. It’s affirming and inspiring to get to talk with so many folks who, like me, care deeply about Melrose and who are willing to share their time with me to think about how to continue to make our City great for all of our neighbors.

What has been the hardest part of running for office?

It can be challenging to run a campaign while working full time and wanting to spend time with my family. I’m fortunate that my family is incredibly supportive and encouraging; we’ve even done a few full-family door-knocking afternoons, and my four-year-old son Harrison is the best door-knocking partner ever. In an effort to balance competing demands, I organize each week proactively to ensure I have time for my family and can take advantage of the time I set aside for the campaign most effectively.

What would you tell someone considering getting into local politics?

There are many ways to inform and influence the development of local policies that will have a tangible, immediate impact on your community. Decision-making generally is improved when more people get involved. If you have ideas about how to make a difference in your neighbors’ lives, your input is important and valuable. Serving as an elected official is one way to support your community in handling the challenges and opportunities it faces.

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