By Evan Colisto, Jaela Bristol and Olivia Battinelli
The man who oversees almost every move President Obama makes admits he grew up with a drug dealer for a role model and could easily have ended up in jail.
Greg Lorjuste, ’04, spoke to Rider students Feb. 16 about his journey to becoming the deputy assistant and director of scheduling for Obama, and the obstacles and hardships that stood in his way growing up.
“I had to work extremely hard to get to where I am,” he said. “It wasn’t handed to me. This blue suit would be an orange suit [of a prisoner] if statistics were right.”
As a black man, Lorjuste said, the odds were stacked against him. He grew up in New York City, one of a large family. He wanted to be a drug dealer because he envied the money, girls and goods that came with that life. A poor student, he didn’t try to do well academically until senior year of high school, and he also was sometimes a troublemaker and a thief. He once stole a box of frosted flakes because his mother bought him corn flakes instead. He even went as far as starting a gang with his cousins.
“As a young kid, I allowed the statistics to brainwash me,” he said.
His older brother, Reginald, and sister, Maggie, also attended Rider, and when he met Rubin Joyner, Rider’s director of the Educational Opportunity Program, his life was changed forever. Joyner encouraged Lorjuste to focus on improving his grades and scoring well on the SATs so he could be admitted to college.
“Rider is a small community where everybody basically knows your name,” he said. “That’s what attracted me. Not being a good student, I didn’t want to just be one in a thousand. I wanted to come to a place where, if I showed that I wanted to succeed, someone would help me.
“The best thing is that Rider invested in the students. It’s rare that you can have a campus that actually wants people to be leaders and help in the decision process.”
As a college student, Lorjuste learned to plan events and manage meetings, and also gained leadership experience, including serving as diversity chair of the student government association (SGA).
“Being part of SGA, it wasn’t like a position just to be a position,” he said. “You met with the dean of students. They wanted your input.
“What makes Rider so good is the fact that that relationship is strong. There were times when Dean Campbell and I would be against each other on certain issues. But because the relationship was so strong, we were able to hash it out, and then, once it was solved, get back to [focusing on], ‘How do we make the campus great?’ We worked around issues together.”
After seeing how teachers could inspire students, his original goal was to go into education, but he changed his mind and volunteered to campaign for Obama in 2008. After the campaign, Obama asked Lorjuste to take charge of his scheduling.
Now, he said, he is the man who controls Obama’s most precious thing — time — although time is something he himself doesn’t have a lot of. Up at 6:15 a.m. every day, he works about 70 hours a week and has almost no time off.
“My favorite part of my job is the fact that we get to travel a lot,” he said. “I’ve been to over 30 different countries. In less than eight years, I’ve been able to travel with the president to 30 different places.”
Passion, purpose and opportunity are the ideas Lorjuste values in life. Passion pushes one to further a career, and purpose helps people realize who they are and why they want to achieve their goals. Opportunity, he said, is a privilege one must grasp whenever possible.
“No one was handing me the keys to opening the doors at once,” said Lorjuste.
He urged students to explore every opportunity and “never let go of your passion.”
“It will keep you living, keep you loving and keep you doing.”
Additional reporting by Samantha Sawh
A day in the life of a Rider alumnus in the White House
By Samantha Sawh
Rider alumnus Greg Lorjuste has never had a bad day in the White House.
President Obama’s deputy assistant and director of scheduling said that “every day is a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
“We work [on assignments] that, if they don’t affect the country now, they will in the future,” he said. “There’s things that I do that the true benefit of it is not going to be seen until 15 to 20 years from now. We probably won’t get the credit and people might not remember, but I will remember. It’s an honor and privilege to serve.”
Lorjuste’s favorite place in the White House is the East Wing.
“There’s so much history there,” he said. “As folks take a tour — or whenever I do tours — I can actually position them exactly where the president stood when he announced that we had captured Osama Bin Laden.
“It’s things like that where, you know, you see it on TV, and you can actually go there and be like ‘All right, this is where this speech was delivered.’ You can’t beat that.”
Lorjuste credits his current success to his Rider experience.
“I love this place,” he said. “It shows, in how much I talk about it, and the fact that I will never stop calling Dean Campbell, Dean Campbell,” instead of switching to a first-name basis as a graduate.
Lorjuste, ’04, met his wife, Kimberly, in 1999 when they shared the EOP program at Rider. They began dating in October of their freshman year. They now have a 5-year-old daughter, Riley Elizabeth, and a 2-year-old son, Aidan Gregory.
“I will do as much as I can to uplift Rider and to help them succeed in whatever they want to do,” Lorjuste said.