Amb. David McKean FR'74 FR'11P
Leading with Global Perspective
During their year abroad, SYA students are presented with many opportunities to learn lessons and skills that inspire them to affect change wherever they land. As alumni, they are members of a global community of SYAers that set out to make change and use their experience to enhance the world around them. As a member of this community, David McKean is doing exactly that as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.
As a high school junior, McKean left the comfort of his boarding school to spend a year in France. His French host family presented a completely new and different family dynamic: a couple in their twenties with two young daughters. He recalls his time there as new, exciting and different than what he was used to: his father had passed away two years before he went abroad, his mother was in her fifties and he had three older brothers who lived away from home. The year presented itself with a new culture and experience waiting to be explored.
Accomplished Academic and Career Politician
McKean, a graduate of Harvard College, Duke University School of Law and Tufts University Fletcher School of Law, settled in Washington, DC where he has worked for the past 25 years in numerous government positions including chief of staff to then-Senator John Kerry, staff director of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joined the Department of State in 2012 as senior advisor to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and became the Director of Policy Planning in 2013. He was confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg in March 2016.
Public Service in his DNA
It was his love of U.S. history that led him to his accomplished career in government as well as him becoming a four-time published author. His most recent book, Suspected of Independence: The Life of Thomas McKean, America's First Power Broker, illustrates that public service and democracy is in McKean’s DNA. He is a direct descendent of Thomas McKean, a lesser-known Founding Father, whose accomplishments are nevertheless impressive: the last signer of the Declaration of Independence, a three-term governor of Pennsylvania and president of the Continental Congress. Comparing politics from 1776 to 2016, McKean said in an interview with the Luxembourg Wort, “Though politics were tough 250 years ago, ultimately a common vision emerged and people pulled together.”
He describes his role as ambassador as “someone that represents the U.S. economic, cultural and political interests to the country in which he or she is posted. With various political challenges facing Europe, it can be complex and challenging to convey the U.S. position, even to an ally, as sometimes we view the world from a very different perspective. My year in Rennes, which has had a profound influence on my life in so many ways, taught me above all to listen, to be curious, and, of course, to communicate in another language.” SYA is also in the McKean family DNA. His daughter Kaye followed in his footsteps and became an alumna of SYA France Class of 2011.
Inspiring Global Thinker
His experience has given him sensitivity to other cultures and global awareness that he has carried with him throughout his life: skills that have served him well in international relations and greatly enhanced his effectiveness as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.
SYA instilled the desire to see the world and to travel. To date, McKean has visited nearly seventy countries. He offers a piece of advice to his seventeen-year-old self that many SYAers can agree on: “Travel, because it’s the most valuable education you can give yourself.”
David is a senior fellow at the United States German Marshall Fund, and recently served as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. Previously, he held the position of director of policy planning at the Department of State (2013–16), and is a recipient of the Distinguished Honor and Superior Honor awards. Before joining the Department of State, David was a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston, staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and chief of staff to Senator John F. Kerry. David also served as minority staff director on the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was deputy chief counsel on the U.S. Senate Campaign Finance Investigation and served as special counsel on the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Along the way, he served as chief of staff to Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator John F. Kerry and taught at the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland. David has authored four books on American political history: Suspected of Independence: The Life of Thomas McKean; Friends in High Places with Douglas Frantz, a New York Times notable book; Tommy the Cork, a Washington Post book world cover and best book; and The Great Decision with Cliff Sloan, a History Book of the Month Club selection. He is now working on his fifth book, a group biography of President Franklin Roosevelt and his ambassadors in Western Europe, pre-WWII, to be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2021. David served for many years as a board member on the Foundation for the National Archives. He is a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard College, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and Duke University School of Law. His daughter Kaye is an alumna from the Class of SYA France 2011