A Valedictorian’s New Address

In 2003, Jon Favreau spoke to an audience of hundreds on Fitton Field. Today, as chief speechwriter in the White House, his words reach billions.

By John Marchese

Of course, if one is really good and a little bit lucky, like Jon Favreau, there is the risk of getting noticed a little too much. Lately, he has had to deal with everything from embarrassing Facebook photos ending up in The Washington Post, to being named runner-up in the White House Hunk contest.

As dinner winds down, Favreau gives one last check to his communications devices, sips his drink and laughs. “It’s ridiculous, some of the things this job brings along with it,” he says. “Sometimes I can’t take it too seriously.”

But mostly he does. “What Obama has been able to do, both himself and the movement that he’s created, is to inspire people in a fundamental way to want to participate again,” Favreau observes. “That’s been the best thing about working for him. It proves my previous jadedness wrong.”

Renewed inspiration doesn’t shade Favreau’s eyes from the work to come. “It’s going to be a tough road ahead, and obviously it’s going to be harder to govern than it was to campaign,” he says, confirming in real terms the old saying about governing in prose after campaigning with poetry.

For the young White House insider, it all comes down to the words on the page. “All of the stories we tell have a common theme,” he says—“in the face of adversity, pulling together and moving toward a better day.”

John Marchese is a writer based in New York City. His most recent book is The Violin Maker: A Search for the Secrets of Craftsmanship, Sound and Stradivari (Harper Perennial, 2008). He last wrote for this magazine about Tony award-winning director Bartlett Sher ’81.