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.
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