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"What Would JFK Say Now?" Speech Writing Contest

The Contest

Open to all AU students, the challenge in this contest was to answer the question "What would a JFK say Now?" by writing a commencement speech of no more than 1,500 words outlining what a President should say today on any broad world issue. 

AU professors Lenny Steinhorn, Bob Lehrman, Jeff Nussbaum and Amanda Fuchs Miller selected 12 finalists from the pool of entries, and then Adam Frankel, former senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama and Desson Thomson, SOC/BA ’80, speechwriter for the Obama Administration and former movie critic for The Washington Post judged the contest.

The School of Communication, West Wing Writers, the White House Writers Group and AU Professor and former White House speechwriter Bob Lehrman underwrote awards of $500 to the winner, Ryan Migeed, $300 to the second place finalist, Trevor Alford, and $200 to the third place finalist, Alannah Johnson, in honor of Ted Sorenson.

The Winners

Winner ($500) Ryan Migeed, Sophomore, SPA/SOC double major

Excerpt: I come to speak to you today about the millions of immigrants who are living in the shadows – who came to our country yearning for hope, but are today living in the shadow of fear.

As fellow students of history, you will know that our country has an unfortunate record of shutting our door to immigrants, out of nativist fears, out of distrust for different cultures and different languages.

We shut the door to the Chinese immigrant, whose life was threatened by the bloody Taiping Rebellion. We shut the door to the Jewish immigrant, who stood at our doorstep wishing to escape mass murder, even as we held our door closed to him.

Full Speech

What the Judges said: "Through Our Common Understanding" Speech 17 wins the top category. It reflects the clear writing, strong structure, and high ideals that marked President Kennedy and Ted Sorensen's collaborations. Its content (which, ultimately, is supposed to be why we write speeches) was thoughtful and highly readable.

2nd Place ($300) Trevor Alford, MA, SOC/Political Communication

Excerpt: If the private sector will not bring Americans into the 21st century, than 21st century Americans should not rely on the private sector alone. The government can help. It is time to finish the National Broadband Plan.

This plan, when fully implemented, will better inform consumers. It will increase competition by regulating industry. And it will bring more Americans online, by ensuring fair pricing.

Full Speech

What the Judges said: This speech, like many of President Kennedy and Ted Sorensen's collaborations, eloquently speaks to a problem of equity and competitiveness, while also calling attention to a new and pressing challenge. It was also a pleasure to read.

3rd Place ($200) Alannah Johnson, Senior, SIS/SOC minor

Excerpt: In the streets of Syria, families struggle to find normalcy in an uprising where the government imprisons you for trying to call for fairness, for justice. Seventy thousand are dead in a country that has spent two years trying to overthrow a regime that has proven they are unfit to rule.

Seventy thousand people. That’s the entire population of Toledo, Spain, killed in a fight for freedom. That’s the entire city of Frankfurt, Germany, fallen in a struggle for security. That is the whole of Santa Fe, New Mexico, gone, because of the inability to heed President Kennedy’s words, and find common ground on which to preside.

Full Speech

What the Judges said: "What Would JFK Say Now" Through its use of history, themes of peace, and eloquent passages, it captures the spirit of President Kennedy's AU commencement speech. There is no question of the author's potential to grow and expand into an accomplished speechwriter.

Other finalists (in alphabetical order)

Josh Cole, Eva Harder, Calvin Hayes, Patrick Moran, Mintara Oba, Emily Parker and Alex Patel