Former presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau spoke to Hopkins students on Wednesday night at Shriver Hall in the second installment of the MSE Symposium.
Favreau provided students with his story as an extension of the Symposium’s theme this year: “Learning From Experience: The Path Ahead for Generation Y.”
“It’s more of a youth theme,” sophomore Connor Kenehan, MSE staff member, said. “Youth empowerment and the way that young people can make a difference.”
In his lecture, Favreau recalled his time as a young, political hopeful. His struggles mirrored the insecurities that many college graduates face today.
“I know some of you have some uncertainty over what that path may hold for you,” Favreau said. “I can tell you that not only have I been there, but I am still there at 32.”
As he recounted his journey as then Senator and now President Barrack Obama’s speechwriter from 2005 to early 2013, Favreau was both optimistic and humorous.
The night before his graduation from the College of the Holy Cross in Mass., Favreau received an offer from then Senator John Kerry’s Communications Director to work on the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates campaign staff.
Beginning at the lower levels of the operation, Favreau did not immediately find success. He answered phones, ordered lunches and performed other menial tasks.
“But I showed up, I worked hard and I kept my head down,” he said. “And, one day I got lucky.”
At the time, Favreau’s boss was Andrei Cherny, director of speechwriting and special advisor on policy for the Kerry campaign. Following his ambition, Favreau asked Cherny for the position as Deputy Speechwriter. Cherny was hesitant to give him the position at first, but Favreau was awarded the title as the campaign progressed.
Another notable moment during Favreau’s ascension came during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
When Obama gave his historic keynote speech, not only did the nation acknowledge the young state senator’s strong voice, but Favreau himself also recognized the orator’s refreshingly unique tone.
“When I heard his keynote address that night, I thought it represented everything that was missing from politics,” he said. “It was honest, it was authentic; it didn’t sound like language that came from a consultant or a poll.”
When President George W. Bush was reelected and Kerry returned to the Senate, Favreau found himself at a crossroads. He was tempted to quit politics entirely.
Weeks later, an email arrived in his inbox from Robbert Gibbs, the newly appointed communications director for then Senator Obama, offering him a job as a speechwriter.
The rest is history.
“[It was] the longest most fulfilling working relationship I may ever have,” Favreau said.
Hopkins students in the audience learned the intimate details of the speechwriting process.
When the team moved to the White House, Favreau had to balance advice from political advisors and policy experts.
“No matter how much stress or pressure [Obama] was under, he never once yelled at me, never once raised his voice, never once became really annoyed,” Favreau said.
Throughout the talk, Favreau noted Obama’s honest approach to speeches. He specifically cited the president’s speech regarding race after the Reverend Wright controversy in 2008, saying no ordinary candidate would have taken such an authentic, risky stance.
“I’m just as idealistic of him now as I was the day I first met him,” Favreau said.
As he concluded, MSE staff opened the floor to questions. Eager Hopkins students posed inquiries covering topics from politics to writing.
When asked about his future, Favreau said he plans to continue writing and making a difference. Currently, he is the co-founder of Fenway Strategies and writes a column for The Daily Beast, which he views as an outlet to express his political views.
He also plans to pursue fiction writing. Favreau is developing his own television show, a real-life political drama.
“For the smaller events, the people that do come are very involved and really enjoy the speaker, so I think tonight was a massive success,” MSE organizer Aidan O.H.W Christofferson said.
The MSE Symposium will continue with an appearance by Kal Penn on Oct. 8.