John Donaldson is a class of 1966 North Springs Spartan and has made
a huge impact on the foundation of North Springs. During a visit on September 29, Donaldson provided many students with fascinating tales of his North Springs accomplishments — from devising the name of our football stadium, Thermopylae, to the creation of the Oracle, to his work in U.S. politics.
Besides his contribution to North Springs, he has worked in many important offices of the United States Government, the World Bank, and in the position of a trade associate for the United States. His international business experience brought him to over 70 countries — most of them developing nations. The Oracle spoke with him about his many accomplishments and his formative years at North Springs during a recent visit.
NTS (Natalia Torrens-Soto): How did your high school years at North Springs help you in your career path?
JD (John Donaldson): We had Victor Hansard, the principal of North Springs, who basically empowered us way beyond what most people would do. We were uniquely able to come up with and choose the name for the Oracle, the Phalanx, the Thermopylae Stadium, the colors for the school, and the Spartan mascot. I became a sports editor of the Oracle and the co-editor of the Phalanx and these years helped me sort of develop my confidence as a person to accomplish opportunities given to me.
NTS: You were the first sports editor of the Oracle and first co-editor of the Phalanx. What was your experience with these publications like?
JD: We started from scratch; nothing existed before we did it so we came up with everything from the name to what we wrote about. For the mid sixties, we had a lot of freedom on how we wrote and I think we came up with a lot of good results.
NTS: What can you share about the creation of the Spartan mascot?
JD: At the start of the school year, my friend chose the Spartan Mascot because he was from Michigan, and as a Michigan state fan, he felt it was the right way to go.
NTS: Tell us about your work in the Senate during the Watergate hearings.
JD: I was legislative assistant to the U.S. Senator and his office was right down the hallway from the committee meeting room where the Watergate hearings were televised everyday. And we, of course, were getting letters throughout the event. For a lot of the hearings, nobody knew how they were going to be or how they were going to come up. It was like a soap opera; people would watch it on television and my mother would occasionally see me walking in the background in live TV. Working in the Congress was hard to get the normal business of the Senate done because of all the attention the Watergate was pouring in. We were sort of riding along this very public river without a lot of control over how it played out.
NTS: Can you talk about your work for the Commerce and Treasury Departments?
JD: I worked to basically being a government lobbyist, if you will, to go up and request funding for the programs of the Commerce Department. I started working in the Commerce Department for the Economic Development Administration which was the development of projects in the U.S., and then I worked in the main office for the overall Commerce Department. Then I worked for Treasury, and I was advocating for the corporations such as IMF and the World Bank.
NTS: What did you do for the World Bank?
JD: The U.S. is the largest shareholder for the World Bank. The biggest difference is that it is an international institution and there are people from 180 different countries who work for the World Bank. It’s part of the UN family. I had to start thinking like an international civil server, rather than an American. You are up there representing 180 countries. You are representing 180 countries, not just the United States.
NTS: You’ve done a lot of International travel. Can you share an interesting travel story?
JD: Everything’s interesting; I’ve been to 75 countries roughly — most of them developing countries. The country I’ve been to the most and am closest to is Kenya. I went there six times in a year. I got to go out to safaris every time I was there; I pretty much have thousands of wildlife photos.
NTS: What type of work are you doing now?
JD: I did a corporate social responsibility project of building a well for a school in Cameroon. I’m still sort of working on a project of protecting women towards sexual violence and DRC (Democratic Republic Congo). We may be doing a bit of more work that involves the World Bank and studying gender equality.
NTS: What would you say to high school graduates going out into the world today? What advice do you have for the class of 2017?
JD: The most important thing to realize is that all of these things started in following my instincts and expertise in things that interested me and so I got to do all these things, and so everyone of these things started sitting, where you’re sitting, in this building. So the most important thing is what you do from when you get up and go from this point forward.