Obama speechwriter and alum Cody Keenan discusses new book during Reunion Weekend


Emily Lichty/The Daily Northwestern

Cody Keenan (Weinberg ’02) discussed his new book and White House experiences during Northwestern Reunion Weekend.

Emily Lichty, Reporter

Alumni, students and faculty gathered in McCormick Auditorium Friday for a discussion with Cody Keenan (Weinberg ‘02), former chief speechwriter for President Barack Obama, as part of Northwestern’s Reunion Weekend.

Keenan, who majored in political science, wrote with Obama for nearly 14 years as his director of speechwriting at the White House and then as a post-presidential collaborator. Now, Keenan teaches Political Science 394-LK, a speechwriting class, as a visiting professor.

Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph led the discussion with Keenan. The event was part of NU’s Reunion Weekend programming.

“I found the conversation really inspiring and interesting,” Erin Shields (Communication ’82) said after the event. “I loved the way he talked about his relationship with President Obama and how they worked on speeches together.”

Randolph focused the conversation on the release of Keenan’s new book, “Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America.” Following the discussion, Keenan signed copies for attendees.

Keenan’s book, released Oct. 4, follows several pivotal events that occurred during 10 days of Keenan’s career in the White House, including the terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as Supreme Court decisions on both the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. It provides insight into his work as a speechwriter and behind-the-scenes moments with the former president.

“One of the reasons I wrote it is for it to do what books did for me when I was a Northwestern student, and that is to convince young people that politics is worth (their) time,” Keenan told The Daily. “We’re just fed this steady diet of cynicism all the time … so I want to break through that cynicism and convince young people that (politics) is worth your time and effort.”

Besides his new book, the discussion also focused on Keenan’s time as an NU student, his experiences writing with Obama and his return to the University to teach in 2018.

Weinberg freshman Jessica Dean said she enjoyed the new perspective on political science, her field of study.

“(Keenan’s discussion of) being able to write in someone else’s voice and not your own was interesting to me because I’ve only ever given speeches myself when I’ve also written them,” Dean said. “I’ve never really thought about how to fully immerse yourself in someone else’s viewpoints and be able to properly express those in a way that sounds like that person.”

Keenan said he returns to NU frequently, as he currently makes the 4.5-hour commute from his home in New York to teach speechwriting. Additionally, he’s spoken at many NU events, including Weinberg Convocation in 2018.

Keenan attended Reunion Weekend while touring for his new book not only to speak, but also to celebrate his 20th college reunion.

“It’s important to me that the first Chicago event is at Northwestern, just because it means so much to me,” Keenan told The Daily. “It’s just a really great chance to remind people what Northwestern education can do, and why it’s such a wonderful school to be able to go to.”

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