The ‘fearless’ speech writer behind Obama’s State of Union address

The ‘fearless’ speech writer behind Obama’s State of Union address

Tue, Jan 28 2014

By Elvina


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Six days before the State of the Union address, Cody Keenan posted on the photo-sharing site Instagram a blurred image of a speech draft with President Barack Obama’s notes in the margins. He ended the post with “#SpoilerAlert #InsideSOTU-Cody.”

No amount of eye-squinting could decipher the details, but if anyone knew exactly what Obama intended to say in his annual address to the nation, it was chief speech writer Keenan.

The 33-year-old Keenan wrote what will be his State of the Union address numero deux after taking over duties last year from Jon Favreau, who left after five years in the job.

A Chicago native who once worked for the late Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Keenan joined Obama as an unpaid summer campaign intern in 2007 as Obama sought the Democratic presidential nomination.

At the end of the internship, he returned to Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to earn a master’s degree in public policy, graduating in 2008.

When the White House called, Keenan jumped at the chance to join the administration, according to a 2010 interview he did with the Kennedy School.

Keenan’s speechwriting career took off after he crafted the impassioned speech that Obama delivered at a memorial service for victims of a 2011 shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, where former Representative Gabrielle Giffords was seriously injured.

Keenan, a former high school football player with a hipster-esque beard, also helped write the president’s eulogy to Ted Kennedy in 2009.

Obama himself is an accomplished and prolific writer, and Keenan has said it is challenging to meet the president’s high standards.

“Our jobs are remarkably like graduate school,” Keenan said in the Kennedy School interview. “You get a paper assignment, you might pull an all-nighter or come in really early to finish, and you hand it in and then you get his marks back and find out whether (the President) likes it or not.”

At Harvard, Keenan studied speech writing and delivery from public policy professor Steven Jarding.

Jarding described Keenan as passionate and fearless. The classes included mock interviews and presidential debates, drills that did not intimidate Keenan, he said.

“He would come to my office and ask, ‘How do I get my foot in the door?'” Jarding told Reuters on Tuesday.

Images of Keenan donning a pirate costume and arm hook while chatting with Obama, and his flirtatious Instagram teases of the State of the Union address reveal a side that his former professor described: “He doesn’t take himself seriously, and yet he is a serious person.”

When Obama takes the stage Tuesday night, Keenan’s skills will also be on trial, Jarding said.

“Even in a room (full of) exceptional students, I knew that this is somebody that we should watch, and that is something that we’re going to see unfold tonight,” Jarding said.

Meet The 33 Year Old Speechwriter Whose Speech Was Teleprompted To The President Last Night

Tyler Durden on 01/29/2014 15:25 -0500

When Jon Favreau (no, not the actor) left the White House last year, 33-year-old (high-school football-playing, pirate-costume-wearing, Harvard grad and Ted Kennedy intern) Cody Keenan took over the reins of chief spechwriter for President Obama. As Reuters reports, Keenan’s speechwriting career took off after he crafted the impassioned speech that Obama delivered at a memorial service for victims of a 2011 shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, where former Representative Gabrielle Giffords was seriously injured. A former professor noted “he doesn’t take himself too serious,” and we suspect, given last night’s SOTU, the rest of the world now knows that.

The wordsmithing wizard of terrific teleprompterism dressed for work…


and his special speechwriting outfit…


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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