The Daily Northwestern

Obama’s speechwriter, Northwestern alumnus Cody Keenan speaks on campus

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Cody Keenan speaks about his experience as a speechwriter for President Obama. The Weinberg alum came to Northwestern for the annual Admiral Weber Lecture.

Cody Keenan speaks about his experience as a speechwriter for President Obama. The Weinberg alum came to Northwestern for the annual Admiral Weber Lecture.

Zack Laurence/Daily Senior Staffer

Zack Laurence/Daily Senior Staffer

Cody Keenan speaks about his experience as a speechwriter for President Obama. The Weinberg alum came to Northwestern for the annual Admiral Weber Lecture.

Mark Duanmu, Reporter

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White House director of speechwriting Cody Keenan reflected on his personal experiences as President Barack Obama’s lead speechwriter and as a Northwestern alumnus at a speaker event Wednesday evening.

“If someone told me in 1998, that in 10 years I would be a speechwriter for the first black president, I would never believe them,” Keenan said.

Keenan (Weinberg ’02) addressed more than 60 students and faculty at this year’s Admiral Weber Lecture, an annual speaker series hosted by the political science department.

After graduating from NU without a job, Keenan worked in Washington, D.C. for former Sen. Ted Kennedy before becoming a speechwriter.

“I had never considered speechwriting at all; I got pulled into it, which was very lucky,” Keenan said. “Any successful person that says luck didn’t play into their success is lying to your face. But at the same time, I helped create my own lucky breaks by working hard and staying in politics.”

Political science Prof. Sara Monoson, the department chair, introduced Keenan, and political science and sociology Prof. Anthony Chen moderated the hour-long Q&A session.

The political science department invited Keenan because it thought his ties to NU would make him a particularly interesting speaker, Monoson said.

“We reached out to Cody because we knew he’s a proud Northwestern alumni and of course a very accomplished person in politics,” Monoson told The Daily. “He’s very direct in communication, and his personality really comes through when he speaks.”

The audience asked Keenan about a wide range of topics, including college advice, speechwriting tips and electoral politics.

When asked about the current state of U.S. politics, Keenan expressed concern over some of the presidential candidates and increased polarization, but said he is ultimately faithful in American democracy.

“There’s a lot of demagoguery this election season,” Keenan said. “People will say things like, ‘If you elect me, I will build a wall’ or ‘I’ll make college free,’ and that’s what makes people cynical about politics — when these candidates get elected and their promises aren’t kept.”

Keenan acknowledged that there has been unprecedented gridlock over the past eight years, but highlighted that the Obama administration covered 20 million more people with health care, saved the auto industry and helped the American economy recover from recession.

McCormick freshman Arturo Brant said he was surprised to learn Keenan had graduated without a job. Brant said it made him realize many successful people have humble beginnings and work hard to earn their success, which he said motivates him.

Keenan also gave some insight on his relationship with the president, who he has worked closely with for more than eight years.

“I work for a guy who believes he can convince anyone with a rational mind that his policies will work,” Keenan said. “I’ll tell him, ‘Your 90th speech on Obamacare won’t change anyone’s opinion,” and he’ll just say, ‘I don’t care, I want to do a huge policy speech on it anyways.’”

Email: markduanmu2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @mduanmu

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