Writing speeches for the famously persnickety Obama is no easy task. For Keenan, it helps that he is one of the seven original speechwriters from Obama's first term. The 32-year-old Chicago native and Northwestern University graduate worked in the shadows of his then-boss, lead writer Jon Favreau, until a Tucson, Ariz., gunman killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 8, 2011. Obama's speech at a memorial, written with Keenan at the lead, won praise for its healing ethos. In the 34-minute address, Obama said: "At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds." Obama concluded by paying respect to one of the victims, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. "I want America to be as good as she imagined it," he said. "All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations." After graduating from Northwestern, Keenan earned a master's degree in public policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He worked for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., from 2003 to '06, joining Obama's nascent presidential campaign in 2007. When Favreau left the White House in March, Keenan became the head of the speechwriting unit.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.