Q&A With Alum Dan Rosenthal

Spotlight Date: 
September 30, 2013
Dan Rosenthal
After joining the U.S. Army and serving in Iraq as a reconnaissance scout, Dan Rosenthal class of 2001 music alumni, graduated from Florida State University in 2007 and American University, Washington College of Law in 2010. He then was admitted to the Maryland Bar, and Shortly after being admitted to the Maryland Bar Dan Rosenthal, class of 2001 alumni, was appointed by President Obama as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service. He went on to serve as Economic and Commercial Attaché in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Q: How did you get involved in music?
A: I got started playing music in middle school band, when I just signed up and got assigned the French Horn. But almost as far back as I can remember; I listened to classical music almost every night. 
Q: What was your favorite performance while at Dreyfoos?
A: I always enjoyed the Prism concerts, both as an audience member and a participant.
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos teacher?
A: Theresa Beermann. 
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos?
A: Dreyfoos really made me feel like I was part of a special community. I was surrounded by talented people, students and teachers alike, and I got to learn from everyone (whether they knew it or not). That's a huge confidence booster for a teenage kid struggling with figuring out what they want to do in life, getting into college, all the things we dealt with at that age.
Q: What made you choose to join the military?
A: I'd always been interested in military history, and after taking some military history courses in college, I decided to enlist along with some friends who were in ROTC (though I wasn't, at the time.) My father was in the Army and served in Vietnam, my grandfather was in the Air Force and served in World War II, my uncle went to the Air Force Academy, and though nobody ever pushed me to join, I felt like I had some big shoes to follow.
Q: How did you arrive at your career as a diplomat and attaché?
A: The whole process took around 2 years from taking the first test, to starting at the State Department. I literally knew nothing about the Foreign Service and the diplomatic corps until my second year of law school, when the legal market was in the middle of crashing. I did some research online and learned about the Foreign Service Officer Test. I knew it was difficult and selective -- only around 1% of initial test-takers will get an offer. I figured "Oh well, I'm not really going to bother studying then, I'll just take the test and see what happens."  Somehow, I passed, and then passed the next stage (a narrative response and resume review). I was invited to take the oral assessment, and realized "Whoa, I might actually do this. I should get serious now." So I joined a study group, took practice exams, and passed with a fairly average score. I was ranked somewhere around 150th out of 270 or so candidates on the list for the Political Officer position (which has historically always been the most difficult). I had to go through a Top Secret security clearance and medical clearance; mine fortunately only took a couple of months, though some people have been waiting for over 18 months for their clearances. I had some great help in the process -- a lot of my initial questions when I was first applying were answered by Sean Smith, who was later killed in the 9/11/12 attacks in Benghazi.
Q: Our readers would love to hear about your experiences abroad; what was it like?
A: In one typical day, I went from briefing members of the intelligence community to meeting with the deputy prime minister of a country, to coffee with the president of a national airline, to dinner with a Somali warlord. I was a Political Officer, but my primary job was as an Economic Officer and the Commercial Attaché, serving as the advisor to my Ambassador on commercial and economic matters. It was tough, because my ambassador was a brilliant career economist, and my economics background consisted of one course in college, and reading "Economics for Dummies" on my flight from the U.S., but learning under pressure is the best way to quickly get a grasp of something. It can be a dangerous job at times -- I had friends at work who were held at gunpoint by soldiers (they lived next door to the top general of the local military, and his guards were a bit jumpy), my colleagues in Abuja narrowly avoided a suicide bombing, and I of course lost my friend Sean in the attacks on the Benghazi mission. On the other hand, I got to visit places few Americans ever will go, enable billions of dollars of U.S. investment overseas, create thousands of jobs, and rub shoulders with the political elite of both the U.S. and foreign governments. It's incredibly rare to find a job that lets you do all of that in your first couple of days at work. 
Q: What do you feel has been the highlight of your career so far?
A: Unfortunately, the best parts of the job are often classified. But one highlight was working with Diplomatic Security agents to help shut down an illegal international adoption ring. The perpetrators back in the U.S. were facing a federal indictment, but the orphanage in my country was still operating, with unimaginably bad conditions. It felt good seeing them shut down by the local authorities. Another was getting called on short notice to handle an emergency situation where several U.S. businesses were told that they'd have to shut down their operations due to a new law about to be passed. Not only would it be a huge economic blow to those businesses, but they were express-mail couriers: an industry vital to supporting the entire diplomatic community. I had to negotiate with the minister in charge of communications (equivalent in this case to the U.S. Postmaster General) to get him to reverse this law that was drafted and decided essentially in secret. Within a few days, we were successful and the proposed law was quietly tabled. 
Eating cubes of raw camel meat covered in spices and warm butter was pretty fun too. It's an acquired taste. 
Q: What recommendations do you have for our current DSOA students?
A: However you can, spend some time outside of the U.S. -- we often get a skewed image of the rest of the world and what other cultures are like, that can only be corrected by experiencing them firsthand. I never thought that I'd live in East Africa, and I always thought it was full of starving people, deserts, and civil wars. Then when I got here, I found out that places like Addis Ababa and Nairobi are modern capitals, full of thriving businesses, and some of the friendliest people I've ever met. In fact, Addis Ababa was safer than Washington D.C. or Tallahassee, and Nairobi had houses that rival those on Palm Beach. But I'd never have known any of this had I simply gone with my first assumptions on what the region would be like, from outdated news reports. Take risks and travel -- it'll be the best education you can get.
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos means to me”? 
A: Dreyfoos was truly an institution. It wasn't just a school -- it was a place where we could learn, develop, and grow both as students and as humans, where creativity was encouraged and it wasn't unusual for people to WANT to work on their art area through lunch, or even well after the final bell rang. It was an institution of top-notch faculty with the kind of dedication, motivation, and creative encouragement that helped shape us into who we are today, regardless of our art area.  
Dan has recently left the State Department to launch his own law firm and his current position is Managing Partner at LeifLaw, a law firm representing creative content professionals and the electronic entertainment industry.
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