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"What Would a JFK Say Now?" Speech Writing Contest

In his 1963 commencement address at American University, President Kennedy called on the Soviet Union to work with the United States to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and help reduce the considerable international tensions at that time.

Speech Writing Contest

This Spring American University commemorates the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's celebrated AU Commencement speech in which he set forth his views on nuclear disarmament and world peace. The speech is widely regarded as one of the finest political and foreign policy speeches and one which had a major impact in limiting the proliferation of nuclear arms.

With him that day was Ted Sorensen, JFK's speechwriter, and author of the draft. "I sat in the back of the platform," Sorensen wrote, later, "thrilled by the president of the United States stating principles fully consistent with my own."

As a school dedicated to teaching speech writing and public speaking, SOC announces a contest designed to give “budding Ted Sorensens” the chance to show what they can do.


Answer the question "What would a JFK say Now?" by writing a commencement speech of no more than 1500 words outlining what you think a President should say today on any broad world issue.

The key words: ANY ISSUE.

More important than the view you express are whether your speech contains the qualities that characterized the Kennedy and Sorensen approach to speech: broad vision, energetic and memorable language and cadence, concrete detail, wit, and story. The judges will look for speeches that focus on policy—while they compel, move, and persuade listeners. At a school of communication, this part of AU's celebration will not focus on JFK's views as much as the way he communicated them.

Who is eligible

Any full-time or part time undergraduate or graduate student enrolled at American University.

What's the deadline?

March 6th. We will announce winners the week of March 18th at a forum and panel discussion featuring some of this country's most distinguished speechwriters.

Submit your speech both electronically and in hard copy to Dean Rutenbeck's office, deanrutenbeck@american.edu .

Your speech must be double-spaced, and include a cover letter with your name, address, e-mail and phone. Include the title of your speech. DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME ANYWHERE ON THE SPEECH ITSELF. We will photocopy your draft and cover letter -- but give judges only the drafts. They will read drafts not knowing who wrote them.

Who will judge the winners?

Picking ten finalists: a panel of AU professors most of whom are current or former speechwriters.  Choosing first, second, and third place will be professional speechwriters who will pick from the top ten.

What is the award?

The award will be presented at a speechwriting event the week of March 18 which will include Adam Frankel, former assistant to the late Ted Sorensen and a Senior Speechwriter for President Obama 2009-2012. The School of Communication, West Wing Writers, the White House Writers Group and AU Professor and professional speechwriter Bob Lehrman have generously underwritten awards of $500 to the winner, $300 to the second place finalist and $200 to the third place finalist in honor of Ted Sorenson. The top three speeches and the list of 10 finalists will be on the SOC web site and also on Punditwire.com.

Any tips for those wanting to enter?

Yes. In addition to the AU Commencement, our speechwriting professors suggest his 1957 JFK Syracuse University Commencement, his 1961 Inaugural; his November 2, 1960, speech announcing the Peace Corps; his 1963 Civil rights speech and his Rice University speech announcing plans to send a man to the moon. And here's a link to the Kennedy Library website (http://www.jfklibrary.org) where you can find more.

Good luck!

Thank you to our Sponsors

West Wing Writers and White House Writers Group have generously underwritten the cash awards for this contest.

West Wing Writers