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Longtime top Hillary Clinton speechwriter leads master class

The “Master Class” is a signature SEGL experience: several times a semester, our students present and defend a “deliverable” in front of distinguished guest experts.  The deliverable could be a funding proposal, a policy memo, or–as was the case last week–a three minute speech.

Among SEGL’s favorite Master Class instructors is Lissa Muscatine, who was Hillary Clinton’s top speechwriter for nearly twenty years (she also wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton).  Muscatine, our 2013 Golden Mug Award winner, joins us twice: first, she prepares students and drops off a speechwriting assignment; second, she critiques student speeches with thorough and collegial intensity.

On Monday morning, Muscatine joined us for a 90-minute opening session, in which she told several speechwriting war stories (What was it like to author Hillary Clinton’s now-legendary 1995 “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech in Beijing? What was it like to write Clinton’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech?), gave a list of speechwriting “do’s and don’t’s” (DO know your audience; DON’T use adjectives and adverbs!), and answered student questions about her long career, about the Clintons, abut the election, and about speechwriting.

Muscatine also crafted a challenging (hypothetical) speechwriting assignment (click on the link to see it!): imagine that Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton had won the election and write her/his inaugural speech.  To complete the assignment, the students broke into groups of four to write six different speeches.  They also viewed President Trump’s inaugural speech, along with several classic inaugural addresses.

On Tuesday morning we trekked to the Russian Embassy to discuss the current state of U.S.-Russian relations over tea and cookies.  The visit provided an extraordinary window into Russian thinking at a time when relations between our two countries are tense.  The Embassy’s officials impressed our students with their advocacy and willingness to answer tough questions about, among other things, reports of election interference.

After a few days of speechwriting debate and collaboration, each team presented its speech to Muscatine on Friday afternoon.  One by one, six students presented speeches, which were then shown on the flat-screen television that sits behind our speaker chair.  Muscatine engaged the entire room in a back-and-forth discussion after each speech, picking highlights and opportunities for revision each time.

After the two-hour session Muscatine stayed for an extra 30 minutes to answer follow-up questions and offer additional advice.

Meanwhile, several students asked to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which took place Wednesday-Saturday just outside DC.  These students missed only a few classes and gained new insights into the conservative movement.  It is a testament to our students’ willingness to listen that half of the students who attended do not identify as conservative: they wanted to hear the best arguments the conservative side can make.

Next up: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

P.S. For independent bookstore fans: Muscatine–now largely retired from speechwriting–owns DC’s most well-known independent bookstore, Politics and Prose.

[Pictures below (left to right; top to bottom): students meet with Lissa Muscatine on Monday; speech writing Master Class with Muscatine on Friday; visit to Russian Embassy; students at CPAC]

Mar 4, 2017

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