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Summer 2017 Master Class with Longtime Top Hillary Clinton Speechwriter Lissa Muscatine

The “Master Class” is a signature SEGL experience: several times a term, students present and defend a “deliverable” in front of a distinguished guest expert.  The deliverable might be a policy memo, an ethical argument, or–as was the case yesterday–a three minute speech.

One of SEGL’s favorite Master Class teachers is Lissa Muscatine, who was Hillary Clinton’s top speechwriter for nearly twenty years (and who also wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton).  Muscatine, our 2013 Golden Mug Award winner, is a gifted teacher whose sessions generate discussion, ideas, and confidence.  Her collegial incisiveness and war stories from the Clinton and Obama Administrations leave students inspired. 

On Monday, we prepped the students for Muscatine’s visit with a speechwriting clinic.  We began with Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle (ethos, logos, and pathos) and added a list of Muscatine’s favorite do’s and don’t’s (DO know your audience; DON’T use adjectives and adverbs!).  We then showed students clips from famous American speeches: Richard Nixon’s “Checkers speech,” Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” speech, Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Democratic National Convention speech, and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech (which Muscatine authored).

The students then received a challenging (hypothetical) speechwriting assignment (click the link to read it!) that Muscatine helped craft.  The assignment, pulled from the headlines (and featuring a guest we had seen at the Tucker Carlson show taping last week), related to our previous media literacy/bias case study.

The next day we took a break (after our first college counseling session) to celebrate the 4th of July.  In the afternoon, we joined SEGL Head of School Noah Bopp and his wife Sydney at their home for a neighborhood block party.  Live music, grills, a moon bounce, wading pools, and other entertainment greeted the students while they arrived.  Later, they participated in (and won!) two limbo contests, a hula-hoop competition, a relay race, a balloon toss, musical chairs, and other “old school” fun.  Another highlight: one of our staff members got to play “Uncle Sam” in the block party parade!  We then trekked to the Mall to see the fireworks on a perfect night.

The next day, it was back to work.  To complete Ms. Muscatine’s assignment, the students broke into groups of four to write six different speeches.  After two days of collaboration, each team presented its speech to Muscatine.  One by one, six students rose and delivered 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.  She stayed after for 30 minutes to answer individual questions and offer encouragement.

Other photos below are from our Newseum trip last week, a visit to a Planned Parenthood protest across the street from our home on Capitol Hill (featuring Senators Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris, as well as DNC chair Tom Perez), and some hang-out time on the National Mall.

P.S. For independent bookstore fans: Lissa Muscatine–now retired from speechwriting–owns DC’s premier independent bookstore, Politics and Prose.  She is also writing a memoir called Hillaryland.

Jul 6, 2017

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