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Jon Ocana ’04: Equity and Empathy in Government

Jon Ocana ’04: Equity and Empathy in Government

Perhaps the GFA core value that alumnus Jon Ocana ’04 identifies with most closely is “inclusiveness.” As the IRS Chief of Ideas, he leads its Inclusion, Diversity, Education, and Solutions teams — ensuring that the employees are fair, and just so they can better serve their customers. 

“On one hand, we explore what we can do to better equip our employees to engage with specific communities and have cultural awareness. On the other hand, we practice conflict management — facilitation, mediation, team-building, climate assessment, and personality assessments,” he explained. “We're here to ensure that not only are we taking care of our customers, but we are taking care of our teams so people are able to come here, do their job, and grow.”

Jon Ocana GFA Class of 2004

Ocana and his teams are solution-oriented, proactive, and creative with their DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work in order to have the most meaningful impact on the individuals that they serve. Their behind-the-scenes work can be seen in responses to crisis situations, like the pandemic, or natural disasters.

He said, “It’s humbling to see the amazing work done. During the pandemic, there was stimulus money going out to keep people out of poverty; when there’s natural disasters, there are segments of the IRS that will help connect people to FEMA.” 

Before joining the IRS, Ocana interned with different government agencies and nonprofits in pursuit of a career that afforded him the opportunity to give back. It was through an internship with the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Office of Civil Rights where those objectives came together. 

“I thought that [the role of an Equal Opportunity Specialist] would be for a year or two, but that grew into where I am now — 10+ years in the federal government doing civil rights or diversity and inclusion-related work,” he said. “I haven’t looked back, and I think that’s a direct reflection of the different institutions I’ve worked for and the conversations and values those institutions stand for. I was always taught the importance of not just taking advantage of opportunities, but also thinking about how those opportunities may offer the chance to invest in the communities I’m a member of.”

Ocana came to GFA in 10th grade. During his three years at the school, he remembered, one person stood out the most: Lynne Laukhuf, current Trustee, and former Assistant Head of School. Ocana said that Laukhuf instilled in him so many of the values that he carries with him today. 

He remembered, “She was my advisor and a really great resource to talk about anything personal or academic. It was so nice having someone who — and this was consistent with all GFA teachers across the board — cared about you. Not just how well you were performing, but reading the temperature, and having that ability to empathize and connect.” 

Ocana got his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, where his experience was mirrored in the themes he saw at GFA: “educating the whole person — the mind, body and soul.” He later enrolled in Fordham Law School, in hopes of becoming “the next great kind of corporate lawyer.” But his curiosity took him in a different direction, and Ocana encourages students to lean into that curiosity — because one never knows where it will lead. 

“Be curious and ask around,” he said. “There are great opportunities for this generation to take the lead, provide insight, and be empowered to mold solutions for the future.”

Ocana currently resides in Washington, D.C., with his wife, GFA classmate and high school sweetheart, Lauren Weeks ’04, and their one-year-old daughter Charlotte. A consistent supporter of GFA, he has engaged in alumni of color meetings led by GFA Director of Equity and Inclusion Shanelle Henry; participated in the school’s annual Giving Day, and currently serves as a member of the Trustee Committee on Equity and Inclusion. Most dear to his heart is the GFA financial aid program. 

He said, “I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend GFA because of how generous it was with financial aid. It meant a lot to my parents to be able to have my sister and me experience not only wonderful teachers and administrators, but also students who encouraged curiosity — to explore the material that we were being presented. It set us up for success later in life.”