White House Social Secretary Reflects On Role

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At the White House Thursday, President Barack Obama held a signing ceremony for a new law aimed at halting age, race or gender discrimination in the workplace. The signing was followed by a reception hosted by the first lady.

Invited lawmakers and dignitaries munched on fruit and pastries. Somewhere in the background, a tall woman was making sure everything was just so in the state dining room — from the yellow orchids on the tables to the apricot coffee cake.

Her name is Desiree Rogers and she is the new White House social secretary, responsible for planning events from state dinners to the annual Easter egg roll.

Rogers comes to the White House armed with a Harvard MBA, a long resume in the corporate world and a keen knowledge of the first family's tastes as a longtime member of their Chicago inner circle.

"One of the things that is very important to the president and the first lady is that the art be reflective of all Americans," Rogers says. "And so one of the things that's already being looked at is the possibility of how can we diversify the art collection."

The Obamas plan to include in their White House decorations art, furniture and rugs created by every ethnicity and race, she says, in an effort to "be really reflective of America."

And while Rogers says she is proud to be the first black woman to serve as the White House social secretary, don't dare refer to her as the official party planner.

"In my mind, there are [multiple] layers to this position," she tells Michele Norris.

Rogers says she puts party planning at "letter E" and overall strategy for events at the White House at "letter A."

"My belief is that we don't always get everything accomplished over a meeting table," Rogers says. "Many times it's over cocktails, it's over dinner and so the other piece to our work will be what kind of events can we create?"

Rogers says she is exploring ideas, including having the American public select their heroes and having a dinner to honor the American spirit and to salute people chosen by communities. Another idea, she says, could be to invite an American selected on the Internet to attend a state dinner.

"The sky's the limit and so the other thing we'll probably be doing at some point is looking to the American people to give us ideas," she says.

Rogers acknowledges her to-do list is quite long and concedes that not all of it can get done in the first year.

"But if you were able to start something ... it starts the ball rolling," she says, "and people just have even more ideas ... of what can be done."

She says though the economy is in dire straits, it is important to continue to celebrate.

"As we go through our struggle, there is a need to be prudent, but I think at the same time there's a need to continue with the celebratory spirit that is part of our lives," Rogers says.



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