Northwestern alum Cody Keenan named President Obama’s chief speechwriter

Cody Keenan (Weinberg 02) dressed up as a pirate for a photo taken in the Oval Office with Barack Obama. It was used at Obamas humorous speech to the White House in 2009.

Source: Creative Commons

Cody Keenan (Weinberg ’02) dressed up as a pirate for a photo taken in the Oval Office with Barack Obama. It was used at Obama’s humorous speech to the White House in 2009.

Cat Zakrzewski, Assistant In Focus Editor

Cody Keenan (Weinberg ’02) will assume the role of President Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter and is slated to take the lead in writing next week’s State of the Union address.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that long-time chief speechwriter Jon Favreau will end his seven-year tenure with Obama on March 1 to pursue a career in screenwriting. Keenan, who currently serves as the associate director of presidential speechwriting, gained attention in 2011 for his role as lead writer on Obama’s speech at the Tucson memorial for the shooting involving then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

The speech called for the country to rise above political divisions following the shooting, which claimed the lives of six people, including a federal judge and 9-year-old girl, and wounded 13 others, including Giffords. The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times highlighted Keenan’s participation after former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced on Air Force One that Keenan had written the speech.

“People were upset that the rhetoric and finger-pointing had gotten out of hand, and it felt like a moment for speaking to who we are as a nation and what we need to do,” Keenan said to Crosscurrents, a Weinberg magazine, in 2011. “The truth is, President Obama rewrote a lot of it. We (speechwriters) don’t always hit the sweet spot, but the president knocked that one out of the park. It was one of those moments that reminded me why I chose to work for him in the first place.”

Keenan is a Chicago native and spent his childhood in Evanston and Wilmette. After his family moved to Connecticut when Keenan was in high school, the article reported, he decided to return to Chicago.

“Northwestern was the only school I applied to,” he told Crosscurrents.

While at Northwestern, Keenan began as a pre-med student but then switched his major several times until finally graduating with a degree in political science. The Crosscurrents article noted he was “a devoted fan” of “The West Wing” and built a foundation for speechwriting in his history courses during his undergraduate years.

After graduation, the Northwestern Magazine reported he got his start in D.C. working as an intern and legislative assistant to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) from 2004 to 2007. In 2008, he began working as an intern, and later speechwriter, for the Obama campaign. He joined Obama in the White House as one of seven speechwriters. He received a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

— Cat Zakrzewski