Five questions for... Yael Belkind ’90, newly appointed staff member of the US Vice President
Yael Belkind has been selected to serve as the Assistant to the Chief of Staff of Vice President Harris
“When anniversaries are held to mark these historical events, we will feel proud to have graduated in such exciting times, for we too have been a part of this ever-changing world.” — Yael Belkind, 1990
Yael's senior yearbook photo
As editor-in-chief of the yearbook during her 13th and final year at ASL, Yael Belkind tasked herself with creating a 1980s-in-review special feature that would honor both the shifting world changes she had witnessed from London and the promise she and her classmates brought to the new decade that awaited them. The pictures she sourced from her father’s employer, the Associated Press, and the essay she penned and published herself, can be found on one of the final pages of the 1990 yearbook. “Here we are, and here we go,” she wrote. For Yael, that meant going to college in the US, launching a career in government, working on behalf of dedicated politicians, meeting prominent world leaders all over the globe and, as of this week, going to work in the White House, where she will be Assistant to the Chief of Staff of Vice President Kamala Harris. Our community couldn’t be more proud of this ASL lifer whose impressive journey into international relations began at One Waverley Place (or 2-8 Loudoun Road).
- From staffing congressmen and a governor to working in the State Department, you have had an impressive public service career. When did you first realize you wanted to go into politics? Was a seed planted at ASL?
It was definitely a combination of my ASL education and my experience of living in capital cities. My younger brother, Josh ’93, and I were born in New Delhi, India, where my father, a career journalist, was working as the New Delhi bureau chief of the Associated Press (AP). It’s also where he met our mother, Rachel. My father’s job took him everywhere: New York, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and, of course, London. We all moved to the UK when he was transferred to the AP’s London bureau. My parents enrolled me in kindergarten at ASL, and the school became my second home. ASL's diverse student body gave me such a strong sense of awareness and understanding of other people’s cultures, and there was so much opportunity to travel. I loved playing my violin in venues across Europe for music tours, and my Alternatives excursions were eye-opening too.
Yael at orchestra practice, 1989
As an eighth-grader, I was one of 44 students who visited the USSR as part of our social studies course. We landed in Moscow on 26 April 1986—the day of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. Our teachers and parent chaperones showed tremendous leadership in the face of the crisis, ensuring our safety and making the experience one I have never forgotten.
Having been born and raised in busy, thriving capitals at the center of politics and history, I knew that I was meant for city life and that Washington, DC, would eventually become my future home. After high school graduation, I left London and ASL for Boston and Tufts University to study international relations.
The Belkind family at the Queen's annual summer garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1990, shortly after Yael's ASL graduation. Left to right: Myron, Rachel, Yael and younger brother Josh
I moved to DC post-college and landed a job as a legislative correspondent for New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, which launched my political career. Other stops along the way include the office of Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the protocol office of the State Department, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Virginia Governor’s office, four Democratic presidential campaigns and now the Biden-Harris administration. During my time in the State Department, I was assistant manager of Blair House, where foreign leaders would stay at the invitation of President Obama. It was such a privilege for me to plan the visits of more than 50 world leaders, learning about each culture and reflecting it in their stay. In many ways, my ASL experience prepared me for this role—appreciating the multitude of stories, values and ideas that our diverse school community generated. I will never forget greeting Enda Kenny, the former Taoiseach of Ireland, during his annual St. Patrick’s Day trip to DC. Upon arrival at Blair House, he shook my hand and twirled me around for a quick dance!
- Can you describe the moment you learned Vice President Harris had appointed you to be on her staff?
I received a call from the Vice President-elect’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, who phoned to offer me the job. I was honored and humbled.
Yael and her mother attended a holiday party hosted by Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden in 2009
Ever since I arrived in Washington 27 years ago, I have dreamed of serving in the White House full-time. I am grateful that my journey through DC has been enriching and wide-ranging so that I feel well prepared for this next historic step. My new role in the Biden-Harris administration encompasses aspects of every job I have had up to this point. The underlying current, for me, is that I ultimately want to help people. The karma was especially perfect for this White House job, as both Vice President Kamala Harris and I are proud daughters of Indian mothers.
- What is the best advice you have ever received?
I live by a tenet that my parents instilled in me as a child: Always be grateful, and keep the big picture in mind. Additionally, former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, for whom I worked from 2001 to 2020, used to say to me, “Sleep when you’re dead!” I really do my best to make the most of every single moment.
Yael poses with the Clintons and her boss of 20 years, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, in 2006
- If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
Princess Diana. Living in London inspired my love of the Royal Family and made me feel a part of its milestones: Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, mourning Diana’s death with thousands of others gathered in front of Buckingham Palace to observe her funeral procession in 1997, joining the crowd of Londoners celebrating Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s weddings 30+ years later. It was surreal being a protocol staffer during Prince William’s tour of the White House in 2014, and I also had the chance to be among the personnel receiving Prince Harry at Dulles Airport during one of his trips to Washington.
- 2020 was such a challenging year for so many, and 2021 has had a rocky start as well. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions you can share with us?
My primary resolution is to keep doing my part, especially through my new job, to help get the world healthy and peaceful again.
Yael and her parents at a White House event hosted by the Obamas in 2015