Former State Department Chief Speechwriter Lissa Muscatine; Silver Star winner Elliot Ackerman visits SEGL for Master Classes
Imagine writing a speech about the current crisis in Libya. Then imagine Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Speechwriting critiquing that speech. This was our task this week in Ethics and Leadership class.
On Monday morning we took a break from our case study to learn a little about ourselves. We began with two questions that divided the students into four groups. First, are you usually the first to speak in groups, or do you prefer to observe and add your views as needed? Second, do you tend to make big decisions with your head or your heart? In the four groups that formed, students took crayons and butcher paper and described their ideal day. Each group (the Drivers, Expressives, Analysts, and Supportives) designed their day differently, using a different process. The drivers made a list and finished first. The expressives talked boisterously and decided to achieve world peace at 10am. The Analysts outlined their day in pencil before neatly coloring in the details. The supportives encouraged each other and drew pictures. The point? First, sometimes conflict is caused by different approaches to solving problems, not by incompetence or ill will. Second, successful groups need all four leadership types to function well.
Armed with an improved understanding of group dynamics, the students learned their assignment for the week. Lissa Muscatine, former Senior Adviser and Chief of Speechwriting at the State Department and former speechwriter for Hillary and Bill Clinton, gave a speechwriting clinic on Wednesday morning. Muscatine is most known for authoring Hillary Clinton’s famous “women’s rights are human rights” speech to the 1995 United Nations women’s conference in China (which a number of our students had read already). Later in the day, Bobby Herman, former State Department official and current Director of Programs at Freedom House, led a spirited conversation about promoting democracy in the Middle East. He left behind booklets for each student outlining Freedom House’s rankings of each country by level of “freedom.”
The students then went about authoring their speeches. In groups of three or four, they wrote for either Secretary Clinton or President Obama. Each group wrote two speeches–one for and one against intervention in Libya–for either the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Clinton) or a group of Ohio machinists (Obama).
On Thursday, each English class had a special visit from U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Elliot Ackerman, a Silver Star winner and fellow Henry V aficionado. Ackerman, who is now the chair of Americans Elect, shared his wartime experiences with students and connected those experiences with the play’s leadership lessons. How do you balance letting your soldiers get to know you with the need to maintain control? What do you do when your platoon loses over half of its soldiers in 36 hours? What is the ideal way to set a vision for your soldiers? His captivating talk was a perfect example of how SEGL’s curriculum connects disciplinary subject matter to the issues, ethical dilemmas, and leadership challenges of today.
On Friday, Muscatine returned, this time with current State Department speechwriter Meg Rooney, and together they spent 10-15 minutes critiquing each speech. Occasionally they disagreed, leaving students to choose which opinion they agreed with (or whether to discard both). One team even got a job offer from Muscatine after she heard their speech. One recurring theme: always know your audience! That night, students revised their speeches given the feedback they had received from Muscatine and Rooney.
What a week!