2023 Speaker • 6 p.m. March 30, 2023 • Wiedemann Hall
Cody Keenan has been a speechwriter for President Barack Obama for nearly a decade, rising from a campaign intern in Chicago to Director of Speechwriting at the White House. Through times of challenge and change, Keenan has helped President Obama craft remarks on every topic for every audience – from tiny backyards in Iowa to the biggest stadiums in the country; from sermons on the National Mall to the State of the Union Address. Over eight years in the White House, their collaborations were compared to the works of Abraham Lincoln, described as the “‘I Have a Dream’ speech for the 21st Century,” and categorized even by prominent Republicans as “speeches that every child should read in school.”
Together, their efforts resulted in some of the most unforgettable addresses of our time. From Tucson to Newtown to Charleston, Keenan helped President Obama fill his role as Consoler-in-Chief. From commencement addresses to Selma to Obama’s Farewell Address, they redefined the essence of the American creed and charted an inspiring, optimistic course for a new generation’s active citizenship. In 2017, Obama asked Keenan to continue their partnership, and today, Keenan serves as Obama’s collaborator on his upcoming book, and as his post-presidential speechwriter.
Educated at Northwestern University and Harvard University, Keenan’s passion for public service was sharpened as a young aide to the legendary Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In 2014, Northwestern honored Keenan with its “Emerging Leader Award,” presented to a top alumnus under age 35. In 2015, Keenan’s commencement address at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service was highlighted by the New York Times and the Washington Post as one of the year’s best. And in 2017, CNN’s critically-acclaimed documentary “The End” highlighted Keenan as one of the central characters in the final days of the Obama White House.
Cody Keenan has been described as the “Springsteen” of Obama’s White House, and his wife shares his surprise that he was named by British GQ as one of the “35 Coolest Men Under 38 (And a Half).” In January 2017, after 36 years of hopeful waiting, Keenan finally got the chance to write his dream speech – one in which President Obama welcomed the World Champion Chicago Cubs to the White House.
With an intimate look into the unique lessons he learned at the White House, Cody Keenan helps future leaders in any field imagine and reach their full potential.