WASHINGTON Jan 28 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
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
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
"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.
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Leslie Adler)