Cody Keenan

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Cody Keenan
Cody Keenan.jpg
White House Director of Speechwriting
In office
March 1, 2013 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJon Favreau
Succeeded byStephen Miller
Personal details
Born1980/1981 (age 39–40)[1]
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Kristen Bartoloni
EducationNorthwestern University (BA)
Harvard University (MPP)

Cody Keenan is a speechwriter, and the former Director of Speechwriting for President Barack Obama. Keenan studied political science at Northwestern University.[2][3] After graduation, he worked in the senate office of Ted Kennedy,[4] before studying for a master's in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.[5] After graduation, he took a full-time position on the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008.[4] In 2009, he took on the position of Deputy Director of Speechwriting; after Jon Favreau left the White House in 2013, Keenan took over as Director of Speechwriting.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Keenan's parents were both advertising executives,[6] who lived in Lake View, Chicago, before moving to Evanston, Illinois, Wilmette, Illinois,[6] and later Ridgefield, Fairfield County, Connecticut, where Keenan attended high school.[7] Keenan attended Northwestern University,[8] beginning as a pre-medical student, hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon, but changed his major to Chinese, international studies, and finally political science,[6] graduating in 2002.[9]

Career history[edit]

Keenan works with speechwriters Ben Rhodes, and Jon Favreau, with President Obama in the Oval Office in February 2013

Early career[edit]

Keenan's political career began with an internship in the mailroom of Ted Kennedy's senate office in 2003, before going on to become the senator's legislative aide.[10] After a stint as a staff assistant for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee,[8] Keenan took a master's degree in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, studying speechwriting and delivery under Steve Jarding.[11] In 2007, Keenan took a summer internship in speechwriting on Barack Obama's presidential campaign, working under Jon Favreau,[12] before returning to the Kennedy School to complete the second year of his studies.[13] He remained involved in the campaign during the year, flying to Iowa during the Christmas break to assist in preparation for the Iowa caucuses.[14] After Hillary Clinton conceded in June 2008, Keenan returned as a full-time staffer on Obama's presidential campaign.[8][13][15]

White House staffer[edit]

After the election, Keenan continued in the role as Deputy Director of Speechwriting, working on a speech about the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,[14] the President's eulogy for Ted Kennedy in 2009,[13] and the President's address after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in 2011,[9] among other speeches. He appeared in a visual gag for the 2009 White House Correspondents' Dinner, dressed as a pirate.[16] Prior to Favreau's departure from the White House in March 2013, Keenan took the lead on writing the State of the Union Address in January 2013.[17]

Barack Obama with Cody Keenan in the Oval Office, July 23, 2013

In March 2013, Keenan was promoted to White House Director of Speechwriting,[8] with overall responsibility for all speechwriting. Writing in The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt noted that unlike Favreau, "who was known for his ability to write lofty, big-picture speeches ... Mr. Keenan focuses far more on individual, hard-work stories as parables for what is difficult but still possible in America."[7] In 2015, Keenan wrote the speech delivered by Obama to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.[18]

In June 2015, Keenan gave a commencement address to the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.[19] In June 2018, Keenan delivered the convocation speech at his alma mater, Northwestern University.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Keenan married Kristen Bartoloni in 2016.[21][22] Bartoloni worked as Deputy Research Director in the Obama White House.[23] The story of their courtship and marriage was included in the CNN Films documentary, "The End: Inside the last Days of the Obama White House".[24] In the film, Keenan says he and Bartoloni met during her first day on the job which he describes as "still the best day I've had at the White House". Keenan says he asked Bartoloni to go out with him three times before she agreed.


  1. ^ "Cody Keenan, Obama's Chief Speechwriter: Chicago-Born and (Mostly) Bred".
  2. ^ "Obama speechwriter Cody Keenan to discuss elections, White House Nov. 12". Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  3. ^ Felsenthal, Carol. "Cody Keenan, Obama's Chief Speechwriter: Chicago-Born and (Mostly) Bred". Chicago magazine. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  4. ^ a b Franke-Ruta, Garance (2013-02-12). "Who Is Cody Keenan, Obama's SOTU Speechwriter?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  5. ^ a b Clift, Eleanor (2013-02-12). "Meet Cody Keenan, Lead Speechwriter on Obama's 2013 State of the Union". Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  6. ^ a b c Stein, Lisa. "Cody Keenan has words for the President". Crosscurrents Magazine. Northwestern University. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Schmidt, Michael S. (January 19, 2015). "State of the Union Speechwriter for Obama Draws on Various Inspirations". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Weiner, Rachel (February 12, 2013). "Speechwriter Cody Keenan takes lead on State of the Union". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  9. ^ a b Skiba, Katherine (January 13, 2011). "Chicago native helped Obama find his voice in Tucson speech". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  10. ^ Felsenthal, Carol (February 19, 2013). "Cody Keenan, Obama's Chief Speechwriter: Chicago-Born and (Mostly) Bred". Chicago. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  11. ^ Nawaguna, Elvina (January 28, 2014). "The 'fearless' speech writer behind Obama's State of Union address". Chicago Tribune. Reuters. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  12. ^ "The right Cody for the job". The Washington Post. January 14, 2011. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  13. ^ a b c Kohut, Matt (January 11, 2010). "Alumnus Cody Keenan MPP 2008: White House Wordsmith". John F. Kennedy School of Government. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  14. ^ a b Superville, Darlene (May 26, 2013). "Cody Keenan Speechwriter: Chicago Native Rose From Unpaid Intern To Presidential Wordsmith". The Huffington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  15. ^ McCain Nelson, Colleen (February 12, 2013). "Meet Cody Keenan, Obama's New Top Speechwriter". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  16. ^ Knoller, Mark (May 12, 2009). "White House Back-Story: The President And The Pirate". CBS News. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  17. ^ Franke-Ruta, Garance (February 12, 2013). "Who Is Cody Keenan, Obama's SOTU Speechwriter?". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  18. ^ Jaffe, Greg (June 3, 2015). "President Obama and American exceptionalism". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  19. ^ Keenan, Cody (June 16, 2015). "Cody Keenan to Public Service Grads: Be Afraid to Fail". Time. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  20. ^ 2018 Weinberg College Convocation Address by Cody Keenan, retrieved 2019-09-04
  21. ^ Paz, Ivanha (2017-02-07). "Cody Keenan: RHS quarterback to Obama's lead writer". The Ridgefield Press. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  22. ^ Wildman, Sarah (2016-07-15). "For Obama's Speechwriting Team, the Message Finally Got Through". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  23. ^ "About". Silver Street Strategies. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  24. ^ "CNN's documentary 'The End' tracks end of Obama presidency". San Angelo. Retrieved 2019-02-01.

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