RHS grad Cody Keenan named Obama’s top wordsmith

President Barack Obama talks with speechwriter Cody Keenan, an RHS grad, aboard Air Force One on the flight to Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 12, 2011. —Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

A Ridgefield High graduate will become the lead speechwriter to the commander in chief next month.

Cody Keenan, Class of 1998, will replace John Favreau, whose move from the top spot was reported in the L.A. Times Tuesday, Feb. 5.

A White House official confirmed the L.A. Times report but Mr. Keenan could not be reached for an interview this week.

Mr. Keenan, a 2002 graduate of Northwestern University with a master’s degree from Harvard in 2008, has been working with the Barack Obama since before he was the president, and before that he reportedly worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy.

In the Obama administration, Mr. Keenan is said to have worked with the president on domestic and memorial speeches, including those that followed the shooting of Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killings in Newtown.

Mr. Keenan is reportedly taking the lead on the president’s fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 12, though Mr. Favreau will officially leave the position March 1.

Mr. Keenan is known for keeping a low profile and for downplaying his role in crafting the president’s words.

“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,” Mr. Keenan told a Northwestern Alumni magazine, Crosscurrents, in 2011, referring to the Arizona speech. “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.”

Mr. Keenan told an alumni publication for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Politics in 2010 that working for the president, who himself is a skilled speaker and writer, is akin to being in school.

“Our jobs are remarkably like graduate school. 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 he likes it or not,” he told the publication. “The good thing is, he’ll make detailed edits when he gets the speech, and he’s generous with his time — he’ll walk us through the edits and explain why he made them. That makes us better writers.”

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