23 Feb Alumni Spotlight – Kate Forbes ’08
Scotland’s Finance Secretary
Kate Forbes is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for an area of the Scottish Highlands. She also holds a post in the government as the Secretary of Finance. Having attended Woodstock from the seventh to ninth grades, at the age of 25 in 2016 Kate Forbes was the youngest person ever elected to the Parliament. She talks about her experiences at Woodstock and how these experiences have helped her in her job and life in general.
How did you find your way into your current work?
I stood for parliament in 2016. I was 25 years old at the time. I didn’t expect to get elected. But the election came, and I was duly elected. Over the next few years, I ended up in a number of different roles, first as a junior Minister in government after two years, and then most recently, and somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself in the more senior finance role, because my predecessor had to resign on the very day he was due to give the budget. So it’s been a baptism of fire, and then we had Covid as well. So certainly the last two years have been supercharged. I am currently on maternity leave but intend to go back to the job.
How did you get involved with Woodstock, and what was your experience like?
I loved Woodstock. Absolutely loved it. I don’t think that our words are strong enough to capture my affection for Woodstock. It was perhaps three of the happiest years of my life. I was there from the ages of 12 to 15, seventh to ninth grades. I was in India a total of eight years because of my father’s work. He worked among students for a Christian organization. He was the finance manager for Emmanuel Hospitals Association managing a number of different hospitals across India, including LCH in Mussoorie. We went to a local Indian School for a number of years and then to Woodstock. I threw myself in, learned so much in the years I was there, and still hold a grudge against my parents that they took me away.
I think at the heart of my politics there is the ability to love somebody else who is fundamentally different in their outlook or perspective — that’s what Woodstock teaches you.
What memorable experiences come to mind when you look back at your time at Woodstock?
It doesn’t really work in Scotland to explain that the monkeys made you late for band practice at 7:00 AM. I remember seventh grade Activity Week because I had the entirety of my possessions taken one year when we were out camping in a very remote part of the Himalayas. Yet it was still a good week. I was a day scholar and enjoyed the music, sport, and activities. I tried to convince my parents, probably on a daily basis, to let me board; they wouldn’t let me as my mom had grown up going to a boarding school. I was always very jealous of the fun that others had.
What challenges have you experienced, and how did Woodstock help prepare you for managing them?
Woodstock prepared me extremely well for my current job. If you think politics is, to put it mildly, a bit of a mess, just know it’s a very toxic environment across a number of different jurisdictions, certainly in Scotland, the UK, North America, and across Europe. It’s toxic because of an inability to communicate well and an inability to see the value in another human being. During my time at Woodstock I learnt the art of communicating with people who came from fundamentally different backgrounds, outlooks, perspectives, religions, cultures, languages, ethnicities. Some people who arrive at Woodstock are unable to speak English, and that’s the kind of bridge-building that sets you up for any job description, which requires you to understand where the other person is coming from. I cannot do my current job without being able to build bridges with people who fundamentally disagree with me and who come from a different background perspective worldview. I think politics is in desperate need of a training ground for people so they don’t just assume that because somebody else is different they’re wrong. They have much to learn, and there’s a richness and a wealth in diversity. I remember coming back to Scotland when I was 15 and being struck by the amount of training and education dealing with racism, and rightly so. And then looking back, I realised at Woodstock we never knew racism. We grew up from a very young age with people who were from different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. And they were my best friends. It was the clash between a world like Woodstock where you learn to live, work, and love people of different backgrounds, compared with a world where we seem to have forgotten that. There are many other challenges in my day job, not least in this current era of rising inflation, cost of living crisis, people really struggling, and constitutional change. I think at the heart of my politics there is the ability to love somebody else who is fundamentally different in their outlook or perspective — that’s what Woodstock teaches you. Perhaps we should send all our politicians for some training at places like Woodstock.
Have you come across any Woodstockers in your constituency?
You’d expect in the Scottish Highlands that there’d be very few people who know much about Woodstock, and yet I’m amazed how many people I do come across – a number of constituents who know Woodstock and have been to Woodstock. People in my constituency have set up businesses and live and work here who have been to Woodstock. And I think if you have been there, there is that sort of instant connection and understanding, particularly if they loved Woodstock, and the people that live here do.
See the video interview at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-Ph7kUe1kw