Although he is usually not visible when his speeches are delivered, President Barack Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau took the stage at Gaston on Thursday night to offer insights into writing, politics and career opportunities.
Favreau served as the president’s director of speechwritingfrom 2009 to 2013 before leaving the White House to work for consulting firm Fenway Strategies. Favreau said that his path to politics and to the position he eventually attained in the Obama administration was anything but assured as an undergrad.
“When I was a senior in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until the night before graduation that I got an offer from John Kerry’s communications director,” Favreau said. “I was paid $20,000 a year, and I shared a tiny Capitol Hill basement apartment with some rats.”
Favreau said that through determination, hard work and more than a few sleepless nights, he eventually got a break.
“One day, when the campaign was almost broke and couldn’t afford to hire any real speechwriters, I became the most affordable option,” Favreau said.
Favreau described his first encounter with his former boss as a less-than-pleasant experience, when he was forced to inform then-Sen. Obama that he would have to remove a particular line from his speech for the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
“He walked over to within an inch of my face, looked down at me, and said, ‘Are you trying to tell me to take my favorite line out of this speech?’” Favreau said. “Great first impression for a future boss.”
Throughout his time in the White House, Favreau was continuously impressed by Obama’s character.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learned from the president was about authenticity and about honesty,” Favreau said.
He emphasized the importance of resisting cynicism and maintaining an original perspective.
“To me, cynicism is just an excuse not to act … an excuse not to try. Our job is to try,” Favreau said. “In my experience, if you are willing to persevere, if you are willing to tune out the cynicism and believe in what you are doing, you will make a difference, not only in the lives of the people you help, but above all, in your own.”
Favreau responded to questions from the audience, including one on why he chose to get involved in politics.
“The reason anyone would want to go into this is because whether you do or not, decisions are going to be made that have huge impacts on people’s lives, and actually can change the course of the world. And we can be a part of those decisions,” Favreau said.
He added that it is this ability to influence people’s lives that drives him as well as many of his colleagues.
“When you actually hear people say ‘My life changed in a better way because of something you helped achieve,’ that is a great thing to hear,” he said.