Although Jesse Spikes grew up in McDonough, Ga., a small town about 30 miles from Atlanta, when he matriculated at Dartmouth College in 1968, he only had to move a few miles.
As a participant in the A Better Chance (ABC) Program, a program that identifies academically gifted minority students and places them in rigorous private and public schools throughout the country, Spikes had finished high school not in Georgia, but at Hanover High School, just a stone’s throw from Dartmouth.
Spikes had first been exposed to Dartmouth between his sophomore and junior years of high school during an ABC summer program held there. Shortly thereafter, when ABC added Hanover High as one of its placement schools, Spikes accepted the opportunity to return to Hanover to complete high school. He competed in football and track. Although he was initially interested in attending Williams College, the proximity to Dartmouth helped him see that everything he was seeking was right there. He felt strongly enough about it to apply as an early decision applicant and as he says, “when I was accepted, I was committed.”
Once at Dartmouth, Spikes played freshman football and was a long jumper on the track team. He credits his one year of football with giving him the opportunity to cement lasting friendships. “The camaraderie that developed during freshman football allowed me to make the friends that stayed with me throughout college and beyond. It was a bonding experience and an opportunity to develop relationships that didn’t happen anywhere else.”
Spikes was a solid contributor in track as well and a consistent scorer in the long jump. But in track as well as football, the most significant aspect of his participation was the social outlet and the discipline and organizational benefits. “I enjoyed sports… I still do,” says Spikes who now enjoys the challenge of golf as his primary athletic outlet, “participating in sports helped to organize the day and provide a break from studying.”
Whatever break track and football provided were clearly well-earned as Spikes was an academic high achiever. The English literature major loved his coursework and dreamed of becoming a writer but practicality prevented him from pursuing writing as his vocation. “I had no idea what I wanted to do but I decided that going to law school would give me the greatest number of options.”
During his senior year Spikes was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship. When his Rhodes class arrived at Oxford, together with the class ahead of them, they formed the largest contingent of African-Americans Rhodes Scholars in the history of the program. The group would take long walks together in the English countryside discussing the issues of the day as well as their own aspirations.
After his stint at Oxford, Spikes followed through with his plan to become a lawyer and enrolled at Harvard Law School. He graduated in 1977 and returned to Georgia with a position at the Atlanta firm of Long & Aldridge. He accepted a clerkship on the Sixth Circuit court in Detroit and clerked there for 1978 and 1979. He returned to Long & Aldridge before being offered promising opportunities to go in house with clients.
One opportunity that proved too good to pass up was the chance to join the Arab-African International Bank. Spikes signed on as a Managing Director and Special Assistant to the Chairman. In offering him the position, the chairman promised to show him how the world did business. Spikes may have taken that figuratively but it was a literal statement. The chairman averaged 180 plane trips per year and Spikes estimated that he accompanied him on 80 percent of those. Over the next four years, from his home base in Manama, Bahrain, he traversed the globe on business trips. “I would sometimes get two hours notice that we were leaving for a 14-day business trip,” Spikes reminisces adding, “and I learned to pack for that trip in 30 minutes.”
But apparently for Spikes, all roads led back to Georgia. Although the experience of living and working in the Middle East was enjoyable and invaluable – among other things, Spikes gained functional proficiency in Arabic – after four-plus whirlwind years, he was ready to resettle. He returned to Atlanta and Long & Aldridge, which had since become McKenna, Long & Aldridge, and has continued to work there ever since.
He is currently a Senior Partner, based in the Atlanta office, with a practice covering a wide array of corporate issues. In addition to his professional practice, Spikes is active in the local community serving on numerous boards. In a fortuitous intersection of his professional experience and community service, he was involved in the effort to secure the 1996 Olympic Games for Atlanta. As a Georgia native with extensive international contacts he was a natural to assist the Atlanta bid committee in their international marketing. Spikes traveled with former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young to Saudi Arabia to make the case for Atlanta. The reward came during the Atlanta Games when he served as the attaché for the Kuwaiti Olympic Team.
Spikes has also made it a point to stay involved with Dartmouth. He served on the Advisory Board of the Rockefeller Center, a public policy institute at Dartmouth, and continues to stay involved with the Dartmouth Club of Georgia for which he is the unofficial barbecue chef for the annual holiday party.
This story was written by Meredith Rainey Valmon in 2007 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.