“A liberal arts education is a skeleton key to the world—
unlocking potential and opening doors to innovation.
Time and again, it has provided the skills necessary
to pioneer an ever changing world.”
— John Giordano
By Alex Baggott
In his years as an undergraduate at Villanova University, John Giordano took every opportunity to diversify his education and discover his passions. Although he majored in English, Giordano was also a teaching assistant for a Physics class, demonstrating the wide range of possibilities that the liberal arts education has to offer. This experience helped to prepare him to pursue a career path that would include politics and law, energy and environmentalism. He certainly spoke the truth when he said that “a liberal arts education is a skeleton key to the world—unlocking potential and opening doors to innovation. Time and again, it has provided the skills necessary to pioneer an ever changing world.” In 1998, he became a member of Phi Beta Kappa before graduating with high honors and academic distinction.
After graduation, Giordano entered the Villanova University School of Law where he graduated with honors. This degree led him to secure a prestigious federal clerkship; a position at one of the top law firms in the world; and high-ranking positions in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. After relocating to D.C. in 2004, Giordano soon moved to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, where he served as a federal prosecutor on cases involving environmental crimes.
In addition to his careers in law, Giordano has applied his liberal arts background and public policy experience in political positions at the federal and state level. On the federal level, he served as a senior official in the George W. Bush Administration; helped lead the 2008 McCain campaign; and lent his expertise to the effort to elect Mitt Romney in 2012. On the state level, Giordano served in a leadership capacity on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and later served on Corbett’s Transition Team as a key member of the Energy and Environment Committee. He was subsequently appointed by Governor Corbett to serve as the Deputy Secretary for Administration at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the second-highest position in that department.
In July 2013, Giordano returned to his home state of New Jersey to serve in the Chris Christie Administration as the Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement at the Department of Environmental Protection, and in early 2014, was approached to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, when the seat in his home district was slated to be vacated. Although he seriously mulled mounting a congressional campaign, he ultimately decided that he could best continue to serve the citizens of New Jersey in his current capacity at the DEP.
All of these accomplishments led him to be named as one of NJBIZ magazine’s “Forty under 40,” which honors New Jersey men and women who have attained high levels of achievement in their fields. However, from his perspective, it is not the awards or the recognition that he values most, rather, it is the knowledge that he is continuing the tradition set down by past Phi Beta Kappa members.
In looking at the paths that John Giordano’s career has taken, his passion for justice, political action, and the environment are strikingly clear. However, less clear, but no less important, has been the influence of a liberal arts education on his career. He stresses that the diversity of opportunities available through the liberal arts allowed him to combine all of his different interests and explore aspects of a variety of fields.
“I credit my liberal arts and sciences education with providing me the broad skills necessary to meet the ever-changing and unique challenges inherent in state and federal government, politics, public policy, and law; and the ability to freely and creatively approach each and its distinct set of issues from a place of personal thought and expression,” he said. The creativity, communication, and leadership skills that he learned from his liberal arts education continue to shape his career development.
Giordano does not plan to rest on his laurels, and in his determination to continue making his mark on the world, he embodies Phi Beta Kappa’s values of social justice and hard work. “I want to be even more proud of what I do tomorrow than something I have done today,” he said. He describes his membership in Phi Beta Kappa as an ongoing commitment where he is constantly “solidifying my place among the other members” of the organization, whose legacy he strives to uphold each and every day.
As part of a new generation of Phi Beta Kappa members, his goal is simple but powerful: “to use the knowledge, the skill set that I have, to change the world in a moral way.”
Alex Baggott is a junior at Davidson College majoring in English. Davidson College is home to the Gamma of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.