For about 16 percent of students at Georgia Gwinnett, a degree represents a new future. Non-traditional students enter college later in life. Some seek new or additional degrees to make them more eligible for promotions in their current jobs, while others seek to change careers. Still others want to start their own businesses.
Such is the case for Darian Horn, 43. After his 20-year run in the Navy, which included serving in the Clinton and Bush administrations, he is back in college in pursuit of a degree in business administration. He plans to use his education to launch a food label, open a restaurant and publish a book about his years in the White House, where he had a unique perspective on many events that shaped world history.
“After moving to Atlanta to be close to my family in 2008, I decided to continue a degree I had started at Central Texas University,” said Horn, a Sugar Hill resident. “I was apprehensive since it had been years since I was in a classroom and there was a fear of failing. But after enrolling in 2012, I found that GGC has a huge emphasis on student success. All of my professors have been available to ensure that I understand the course material and grow academically.”
Horn joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1988, following in his older brother’s footsteps. He managed the captain’s and officers’ mess on the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN72 while stationed in Alameda, Calif. He completed two San Diego food service schools with honors.
A presidential opportunity
In 1992, he was asked to serve in the White House after an extensive background check qualifying him for the nation’s highest security clearance. Once there, he joined fellow Navy culinary specialists on the staff in the four-star mess, facilitating kitchen prep, dining room service, catering services, administration and travel support to the President.
Horn is the only enlisted aide to hold the White House service badge and Vice President’s service badge for a combined 15 years of service. However, he was more than a chef – he was part of the White House security detail.
For example, as head chef on a presidential trip to Jakarta, Indonesia, he was responsible for President Clinton’s food security when hosting dinners for heads of state. All of the food prepared on the trip was procured in the U.S. and transported to Jakarta.
In addition to food security on international excursions, Horn cites “off the record meals” as one of the more challenging tasks he faced.
“My role switched from being the meal preparer to providing food security for a restaurant destination,” Horn said. “It’s not easy to infiltrate someone else’s kitchen and watch every item used to complete an entrée, then inspect the entrée from its origin until it’s placed in front of the President or Vice President.”
Amid the pressure, there were many perks, such as opportunities to meet famous and notable people attending events at the White House, including Olympic superstar Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner and actors Whoopie Goldberg and Carroll O’Connor.
Horn also shared many moments with both Clinton and Bush, the first families and other high-ranking officials.
Although Horn prepared and served meals for many dignitaries at the White House and the Vice President’s residence, some of his fondest memories have nothing to do with food preparations or security, but were of a more personal nature.
“As an enlisted aide to the Vice President, I oversaw many of the needs of the family and had the privilege of caring for Dave, Vice President Cheney’s Labrador retriever who had become ill in his old age,” Horn said. “On the evening of his passing, I watched Vice President Cheney hold and comfort his friend until the early hours of the morning when Dave breathed his last breath, with Mrs. Cheney at his side, eyes filled with tears.” It was extremely touching to witness the Vice President load Dave into the back of a waiting veterinarian vehicle, he recalled.
“One of my favorite memories of my time at the White House was my conversation with President Clinton while in line for my departure photo with him,” Horn said. “As I finally approached him after waiting in the back of the line with other military personnel, he spoke to me in a very personable way, recalling specific trips I had supported and inquiring about my next assignment. I was wowed!”
Back to college and a new career
Horn served at the White House from March 1993 to September 1997 before being assigned to the Vice President’s residence where he continued to serve until December 2008.
Leaving the White House and the Vice President’s residence and retiring from the Navy was a stressful transition for Horn, as he found it difficult to transfer his years of experience into a satisfying career path.
“If it had not been for the options provided by GGC in degree opportunity and class schedule, I don’t know what I would be doing now,” he said. “GGC taught me that education is a powerful tool. The sooner you acquire it, the sooner you are able to open doors that might have previously been closed to you.”
Horn plans to graduate in 2015 and launch a food product line that will include cooking oils, seasonings and sauces. He also aspires to open a restaurant in the Suwanee area with a White House theme.
During his time away from GGC, Horn works as a private contractor and concentrates on future business endeavors. He has a passion for baking, but enjoys cooking as well and says he can “cook anything.” He enjoys teaching and most recently, product development.
“My time at the White House taught me not to grow comfortable,” Horn said. “So many people turn away from continued education because the bar has been pushed so far out of reach, but if the desire to learn is strong, an education is attainable. Once you arrive at the place where you believe you know it all, it is at that moment you can no longer learn.”
White House photography by David Bohrer