Professional speechwriters share advice with students

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From left, Thayer Scott ’93, Adam Frankel ’03, Graham Buck, and Nancy Mensch Turrett ’81 were among the speechwriters who shared stories at a Sept. 23 dinner with Princeton students. (Habin Chung ’12)
The advice of White House speechwriter Adam Frankel ’03 was very simple. “Follow your passion,” he said at a dinner discussion on campus Sept. 23. “But it’s better to be lucky than good.”
 
Frankel, a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama, joined other speakers to discuss their careers with 19 interested students at “Perspectives on Speechwriting and Communications,” an event hosted by the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.
 
Part of a series titled “The Road Less Traveled: Exploring the Creative Professions,” the dinner talk featured three alumni: Frankel; Thayer C. Scott ’93, previously chief speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and founder of Executive and Policy Communications; and Nancy Mensch Turrett ’81, the global president for health at Edelman, a leading independent public relations firm.
 
Other speakers included Graham Buck, a speechwriter for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and John Weeren, President Tilghman’s speechwriter and assistant.
 
Attendees applied for an invitation by answering the question, “Why does a career in speechwriting interest you?” Nearly all of the students chosen were editors and writers for campus publications or members of the University Press Club.
 

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Thayer Scott, left, speaks with Lauren Zumbach ’13, center, and Giri Nathan ’13. (Habin Chung ’12)
Due to the intimate nature of the discussion and the confidential anecdotes divulged, members of the press were only allowed to attend the hors-d’oeuvres period before the dinner.
 
One of the attendees, Teddy Schleifer ’14, spoke after the dinner about his appreciation for this event. Schleifer, a staff writer for The Daily Princetonian, was a speechwriting intern for the Department of Education last summer.
 
“Speechwriting is such a niche subject that the only true way to understand it is to really immerse yourself in the field and engage with practitioners, and that’s what made this event so enlightening and useful,” he said.
 
Giri Nathan ’13, an editor-in-chief of the Nassau Weekly and member of the University Press Club, was surprised to learn that the speakers had all taken different paths to arrive at their current careers.
 
“It was good to hear that there are still some very cool professions that don’t demand some kind of linear career progression,” Nathan said. “[It] seems like the writers of some of the most memorable words in American political history never could’ve foreseen that they’d be writing those words.”
 

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Sarah Xiyi Chen ’13 is a Woodrow Wilson School major from Arcadia, Calif.

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