David Diaz Delivers 2022 Jarvis International Lecture

“Good schools help you learn about yourself, and better schools help you learn about the world. But the best schools help you learn to find your own place in the world—your path within our global community—and then decide how you might shape and contribute to it.”

Thus began F. David Diaz in Rousmaniere Hall on October 18, as Roxbury Latin’s nineteenth Jarvis International Lecturer. Mr. Diaz has served the United States in the national security and foreign policy arena for more than 30 years. He currently serves at the U.S. Department of State, where he is the director of the government’s Interagency Task Force on Man-portable Air Defense Systems. There, he leads a team of officials from the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, as well as the Intelligence Community, to combat illegal trafficking of advanced and portable guided missiles that, if held by terrorists or other violent actors, pose a threat to commercial and military aviation and the global economy.

Mr. Diaz described vivid experiences that he had as a young person, events that played significant roles in the career path he chose: first, of riding in an Army National Guard Huey helicopter, and second, of walking into the State Department building for the first time, where his brother was interning. Mr. Diaz grew up in inner-city Chicago, where his father was very involved in the local community and in helping to develop economic opportunities for people in lower income neighborhoods. Mr. Diaz’s older siblings (he’s the youngest of four) also pursued different paths to public service, whether that was through corporate social responsibility or advocacy on climate change.

“Regardless of what path you choose, there are, I believe, ten keys to public service leadership that will not steer you wrong,” Mr. Diaz said. He continued by naming and describing those tenets, relative to how they have played out in his decades of work serving in the federal government: “Understand the Why?; question your assumptions, and ask hard questions; set clear goals; lead from anywhere that you are, and make teams that make progress. Also, your words matter; you matter; but it’s not all about you. You can’t solve everything; remain humble; but, also, be relentless. And guess what? Surprise ending: All of these keys to public service leadership don’t just make you a great public servant, they also make you a better person, a better citizen, a better parent, spouse, son, or daughter. The real lesson of public service is that it’s a mindset for how you live your life, not just what you do, and that is what all of this is really about.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Diaz completed a stint as a director for Africa at the National Security Council, where he coordinated U.S. government efforts across the Sahel region and Coastal West Africa. He was the principal author of the government’s comprehensive strategies for the Sahel region and for relations with Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, and represented U.S. national interests on official travel to France, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Equatorial Guinea. Prior to that, Mr. Diaz worked for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, and before that he spent more than a decade as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State. He is a former U.S. Marine Corps Officer and assault helicopter pilot whose service included a tour in Boston as the Marine Officer teaching history and ethics to Navy and Marine Midshipmen at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, and Northeastern. He holds masters’ degrees in International Relations from Boston University and in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington, DC. He is currently completing a master’s at Georgetown focused on the socio-cultural and economic drivers of instability in the Sahel region of Africa.

After the Hall, Mr. Diaz fielded dozens of questions from Class I boys about his work in the federal government, about foreign policy, and about the war in Ukraine, during a breakfast reception in his honor. Following that, Mr. Diaz met with Mr. Thomsen’s AP Government and Politics class, where he continued the discussion about government workings about his overlap with congressional colleagues on Capitol Hill.

In 2004, Roxbury Latin initiated the annual Jarvis International Fund Lecture, which has become one of the school’s proudest traditions. Over the years, the fund has brought to RL distinguished public servants and thinkers on foreign affairs—including economist Paul Volcker; Roxbury Latin alumni Ambassadors Richard Murphy and Mark Storella; Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense; Lisa Monaco, homeland security advisor to President Obama; John Brennan, former Director of the CIA; Professor Bill Taubman, who spoke about Russian and U.S. relations over many decades; Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas, who spoke about the critical role of diverse perspectives in the work of foreign affairs; and, last year, Dr. Javier Corrales, who spoke about democracy in Latin America today.

The genesis of the Jarvis Lecture Fund is twofold: first, the appreciation that alumnus Jack Hennessy, Class of 1954, and his wife, Margarita, had for the distinguished work that Tony Jarvis did during his time at Roxbury Latin; and second, their conviction that Americans, in general—and Roxbury Latin’s teachers and students, in particular—could benefit from greater exposure to issues concerning the United States’ place in the world.