The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

Longtime top Hillary Clinton speechwriter leads SEGL Master Class

Date: Sep 24nd, 2016

The SEGL Master Class: it is something of a trademark experience here.  Several times a semester, our students present and defend a “deliverable” in front of a distinguished guest expert.  The deliverable might be a policy memo, an Constitutional argument, or–as was the case this week–a three minute speech.

Lissa Muscatine was Hillary Clinton’s top speechwriter for nearly twenty years.  (She also wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton at the White House.)  She co-wrote Secretary Clinton’s recent speech to the Democratic National Convention along with nearly every one of Clinton’s most famous speeches: the 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, the now-legendary 1995 “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech in Beijing, and countless others. Our 2013 Golden Mug Award winner, she is adept at preparing our students to write compelling speeches.  And she critiques those speeches in a thoughtful style that leaves students eager to revise.

Muscatine made two visits to SEGL this past week.  On Monday morning, she joined us for a 90-minute opening session, in which she told speechwriting war stories, 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 career, the Clintons, and speechwriting.

Muscatine also crafted a challenging (hypothetical) case study (click on the link to view) for our students: imagine Hillary Clinton is President but must go back on several campaign promises because the situation in Syria is creating more and more leadership dilemmas.  How would you announce and defend this, in front of specific audiences?  To complete the assignment, the students broke into groups of four to write six different speeches.

After a few days of debate and collaboration over speech drafts, each team presented its finished product to Muscatine on Thursday afternoon.  One by one, six students presented speeches, which were then shown on the flat-screen television that sits behind our speaker chairs.  Muscatine led a back-and-forth discussion after each speech, picking highlights and opportunities for revision each time.  The students will take this feedback and revise their work one more time.

Muscatine stayed long after her scheduled departure to answer individual questions and offer encouragement: the post-speaker gaggle is always a special opportunity at SEGL for more personal follow-up questions.

(For independent bookstore fans: Muscatine–now retired from speechwriting–owns DC’s premier independent bookstore, Politics and Prose.  Before her Master Class, she donated three new books to SEGL’s library.)

Tomorrow we visit the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Museum is sold out through November, but we have tickets to opening weekend!