Kori Schake, A Sonoman at Stanford
Catching Up With A Grad
School Superintendent Louann Carolmagno, left, was a classmate of Kori Schake’s while the pair attended school in Sonoma.
It has been more than 30 years since a Sonoma Valley High graduate has attended Stanford University. But the grad it let in back in 1980 has been so successful that Stanford should be banging down the door to get more of our students.
Kori Schake, class of 1980, has traveled a path to success marked by hard work and good company. Schake caught the attention of her professor, Condaleeza Rice, while at Stanford. Rice encouraged Schake to pursue studies in international relations and government, leading Schake to obtain her master’s degree and her Ph.D., in government.
Colin Powell hired Schake to work in the Defense Department just before Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Schake’s first government job was NATO Desk Officer, and from there she worked in Pentagon staff jobs, including a stint in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Schake was then hired by the Bush White House and served as the deputy director for policy planning in the State Department. During President Bush’s first term, she was the director for Defense Strategy and Requirements on the National Security Council. When John McCain was running for president, she was his senior policy advisor.
Today, Schake splits her time between lecturing at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, participating in advisory groups in D.C., and serving as a research fellow at Stanford University’s conservative think tank, the Hoover Institution.
But it all began in Sonoma. Schake attended El Verano Elementary School and Altimira Middle School and she was a classmate of Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno. Her parents still live in Diamond A. And despite an ungodly travel schedule, Schake recently bought a weekend house in Glen Ellen where she hopes to get a lot of writing done.
Schake looks back fondly on Sonoma High. “I have so many great memories – and lots of embarrassing ones. Andy Smith loaning me her boyfriend, Tim Gray, as my homecoming escort because everyone knew I couldn’t scare up a date on my own. Stan Augustine inspiring me to work so hard at track, and making it such fun in the process. Dolores Fernandez being such a fierce competitor in the 880 and such a great teammate. My brother putting a fish in someone’s locker on a hot Friday so the whole school stunk the next Monday. Mike DeLong teaching a room full of fidgety kids to love Shakespeare.”
Schake had planned to head to the East Coast for college, but when the Stanford coach invited her down for a visit, she said, “I was stunned by the splendor and intellectual excitement of the place.” She said her parents questioned her choice, telling her they didn’t want her coming home all the time … that she needed to step out into the world.
But Stanford was a perfect fit. “I loved people’s wildly diverse talents, and the different ways they put them to use,” she said. “Silicon Valley grew around Stanford because of its links to the university, and both have a wonderfully creative, experimental feel. People are less worried about failing than about not having ideas to explore.”
Schake advises students that there are lots of paths to success, “Don’t worry too much about getting into any particular school, or think it reflects too much on you if you don’t. There’s not just one way to get where you want to go, there are lots and lots of ways to get there.”
Schake’s parents believed in her from the beginning. “My parents never talked down to me. I vividly remember being about 7-years-old and my mom asked me whether the U.S. should be in Vietnam – I love that it never occurred to her that every 7-year-old in the country didn’t have an informed view on the subject. I’m the child of curious, intelligent parents and they inspired all three of us kids to be curious and informed about the world.”
Said Carlomagno, “Kori is as down-down-to-earth now as she was 30 years ago. In addition to being incredibly smart, she is one of the most hard-working people I know – and when you meet her parents you know exactly where she gets these characteristics.”
Despite her daunting list of accomplishments, Schake swears that she is not even the most talented one in the family – her brother had a successful career in the Air Force, and her sister, Kris (Sonoma High ’88), is Michele Obama’s communications director.