Cyrus Merrill’s grade 8 history students had the unique opportunity to chat with White House speechwriter Laura Dean in late January, just after President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address.
The interviews were conducted by phone, and students asked a range of questions about speechwriting and what life is like as an employee of the president. Dean said that Obama practices the speech only “two or three” times without interruption from applause, and that speechwriters attempt to strike a balance between content that will be liked both by Congress and the general public.
During the process, she said, writers often spend a lot of time debating which ideas to start with, and find that it is difficult to say “no” to the president when he has an idea for the content of a speech.
Writing of the State of the Union speech starts in December, and begins with research teams finding out what they want the speech to cover and checking facts with specialists. During the last couple of weeks before the address, the president becomes more involved in the process, but during the final week, the team tries to keep him from making any further changes.
Amusingly, some students wanted to know what font is used when writing the speeches. “Times New Roman 12,” Dean replied.