How did Johanna Maska, a KU Honors alum from a small manufacturing town in Illinois, make her way to touring the pyramids at Giza and visiting Nelson Mandela's prison cell in South Africa with President Barack Obama?
According to her May 2016 Commencement speech to KU Honors grads, by having some good luck, never taking no for an answer, and dreaming big.
Maska graduated from KU in 2004 with degrees in journalism and history. She didn't know where she was headed post graduation, but she did know that she wanted to make a difference and craft a fulfilling life for herself.
She started local, working first in state government for then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius and on state campaigns in Iowa. Then, in the summer of 2007, she decided to seek a position on Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Already in Iowa, she tracked down the Iowa state campaign director and, as she puts it, "I literally wouldn't let [him] avoid me."
Eventually, Maska's persistence won out and the director hired her to do press advance for the campaign. She spent the next year working long hours and driving more than 30,000 miles across Iowa. When Obama won, she found a job in his administration, planning two presidential inaugurations and eventually rising to become the Director of Press Advance. Over her six years in the Obama administration, she traveled with the President across the U.S. and to 40 countries.
Maska now serves as an advisor and consultant for various organizations, including the Greycroft-backed Karmic Labs, Percena, FairyGodBoss, and the Vinetta Project. She lives with her husband Henry C. Jackson (another KU alum) and her small son. She cherishes the balance her family brings her. "Of all of the cool things I’ve ever done, the coolest thing I’ve ever done is become a parent," she says.
In Maska's commencement address, she passed on some advice she'd received through the years:
"Get health insurance."
"Live your dreams."
"If you want to ride a bike, you must pedal."
--A diplomat at a G8 Summit in Italy
"Get a life, a real life. Not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house."
--Anna Quindlen, Short Guide to a Happy Life