When Liz Hart stepped onto the White House grounds in 2013, she felt a mix of awe and nervous excitement. On that day, she was scheduled to interview for a position as director of message events for then-Vice President Joe Biden.

As she waited outside the vice president’s communications office, she reviewed the photos on the waiting-room walls. One caught her eye.

“The print hanging above the couch I was sitting on was of Joe Biden visiting Virginia Tech, and he was on the Drillfield,” Hart said. “I thought that was a good sign.”

And indeed, it was. Hart was hired for the position, and as of January 2021, she once again works in the White House, now as the deputy social secretary. Hart will return to Blacksburg as the commencement speaker for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences on Friday, May 13, at 3:30 p.m.

Hart, a 2007 communication graduate of the School of Communication, knew from an early age that event management would be her career choice. As she was trying to decide what college to attend, a meeting with one of Virginia Tech’s advisors helped her to ponder all that she could accomplish if she became a Hokie.

“The advisor told me, ‘It’s wonderful you know you want to work in events, but Virginia Tech can give you a broader perspective that will strengthen your career.’ That’s what led me to the communication major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences,” Hart said. “That program taught me not only how to put on an event, but also to make sure that it’s seen, that it's reaching the right people, and that it’s serving a greater purpose than just doing an event for an event's sake. That’s how I ended up being a communication major with a public relations focus.”

Liz Hart
Photo courtesy of Nate Emory.

Everything came into focus for Hart during her time in Blacksburg. She was attracted to event producing because of the ability of events to elevate human experiences through special moments. During her senior year, she witnessed that power firsthand as the Ring Dance chair. 

“I have been so proud to watch Liz succeed and share her talents in all kinds of ways that propel a narrative and make a difference,” said Laura Wedin, director of student programs for the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. “As a student, Liz thought big and outside the box, always with the goal of bringing Hokies together in a special way that would also make them feel included. 

“As Ring Dance chair for her class, she approached the annual event in that way and transformed how everyone viewed it. Even today, the genetics of Liz's vision and leadership remains a part of our ring dances now. She's done events on even larger scales since then, but that Hokie down-to-earth humbleness is still part of how she operates.”

In 2007, Hart started working with The Walt Disney Company where she trained in event production, and later moved to New York City for a job at an event firm. In 2010, she served as an assistant stage manager for the Vancouver Olympics, a stint that elevated her sense of purpose in her event-planning career.

“My experience at the Olympics led to my returning to New York with a clearer focus on events that had purpose and inspired my passion,” Hart said. “When you work on things you love, you dedicate more time and devotion.”

Hart’s transition into the political realm began after she took note of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. She longed to be a part of it. Four years later, for Obama’s 2012 campaign, she traveled to key battleground states and produced rallies and events, using the strategic messaging skills she learned at Virginia Tech.

That was the start of Hart’s rise into the White House. Along the way, she continued to create a range of experiential moments for people. She was a producer on the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball Drop official livestream show eight times, served as special projects manager for five Super Bowl Halftime Shows, and started her own event consulting company. 

“The event piece and the experiential piece have been threads throughout these roles,” Hart said. “Identifying what it was I loved to do early was helpful. Yet, I also needed to learn all aspects of event planning, infuse my passion into events I found meaningful, and view events through a communication and public relations lens.”

In her current position, Hart is tasked with hosting and planning events for President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. The social secretary’s office makes the arrangements and helps bestow the protocols and honors that go into hosting foreign dignitaries, guests for Christmas events, and even Scripps National Spelling Bee winners on behalf of the president and first lady. 

Hart keeps an open mind, one that has focused and guided her every step of the way. She’s prepared to share those insights with the newest graduates of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

What will her advice be to the Class of 2022?

“Overprepare but allow space for things to authentically unfold,” Hart said “Do your homework and be ready for opportunities. But understand that unpredictability sometimes leads to the best outcomes and allows us to embrace the best parts of the human experience.”

Written by Cory Van Dyke