To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling three dozen of Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The 18th alumna in our series is Elisabeth Hire ’00. An English major from Bexley, Ohio, her career has incorporated, in Hire’s words, both “the politics of theater and the theater of politics.” She has performed with BalletMet and worked at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and on every Democratic presidential campaign since 2000. Hire served as director of operations for Vice President Joe Biden and currently serves as a senior advisor at The Markham Group, a full-service event management firm. She lives in Bexley with her husband, two kids and a rescue dog named Sarge.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
By surrounding myself with a village of people who literally and figuratively support me and my family in all aspects of life. If I start to drop one of the many balls I have in the air, I can call someone to help me pick it up. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of self-awareness and strength.
When I left the White House, I told Vice President Biden that I was leaving to start a family closer to my family. Upon hearing this, he picked up the phone and called my parents to congratulate them. This story is a not-so-humble brag, yes, but it also illustrates how I get things done. I constantly reprioritize, I surround myself with people who support me both personally and professionally, and I ask for help.
(Also, as an aside, please ask men this question, too.)
Where did you first discover your power?
In the ballet studio. There, I learned that I would fail a million different ways before I achieved any kind of success. Through my study of ballet, I was taught how to persevere, persist and grow into a better dancer, and I have applied these powerful tools of discipline in every aspect of my life ever since.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
Professor Emerita of English Judy Smith. She is a powerhouse who taught texts that exploded the traditional literary canon. She delivered her classes by passionately questioning the nature of authority in her fascinatingly enthusiastic manner. I adored her classes, and I adore her.
Macy Howarth McGaw ’98 first brought me into student government by inviting me to help transform the Kenyon housing lottery to be more equitable between the sexes. She introduced me to the power of good policy, and this helped propel me to my work in campaigns and government.
All my friends who encouraged me to run for Campus Senate my senior year, and especially former Associate Dean of Students Cheryl Steele. Cheryl guided us through some tough conversations as we reviewed and reworked the sexual assault and sexual harassment policies. She was fair, tough and kind throughout the process, and I have modeled my management style after hers.
Diana Zicklin Berrent ’96 invited me to work on my first presidential campaign. This transformed my life, and I am forever grateful to her.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Which I think pairs very well with advice from [Professor of Drama] Wendy MacLeod [’81] to my Kenyon Class of 2000: “You need to be a nobody, so that when you become a somebody, you don’t become an asshole.”
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
Since leaving Kenyon, my worldview has evolved to understand how deep seated misogyny is in my everyday life and how pervasive it is throughout the world. This knowledge is both deeply disturbing and deeply motivating, and I try to focus on the latter in my work and in my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Hillary Child ’13
Read about the next woman in our series: Leslie Martin ’14