How the Washington Semester Program Helped Connect With a US President

The College celebrated the program's 50th anniversary last week in the nation's capital

Jon Favreau '03, Hon. '14 remembers his job interview with Barack Obama as one of "the easiest" in his career. Favreau said he and the future 44th president of the United States, then recently elected to the U.S. Senate, immediately connected through the values the speechwriter learned at the College of the Holy Cross. 

"I told him all about Holy Cross and I told him all about Worcester," Favreau said in a conversation with Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau during a celebration of the College's Washington Semester Program. "He immediately saw a commonality there." 

The dialogue was one of many that occurred last week in an event commemorating 50 years of Holy Cross' seminal program in the nation’s capital

From 2005-2013, Favreau served as head speechwriter for Obama. In 2017, he founded political media Crooked Media, home to more than two-dozen podcasts, including the popular "Pod Save America." 

"I will say, one of the reasons I think [Obama and I] worked so well together is because ofthe education I got at Holy Cross and, specifically, the Jesuit education about service to others and being men and women for others," Favreau said. "It gave me a philosophy of politics and public service that was very closely aligned with Barack Obama's."

Favreau said he still thinks about the lessons he learned from Holy Cross professors, noting he often spoke with faculty with differing point of views to better form arguments. The environment on The Hill catalyzed his passion for politics, debating and making change.  

"What I learned at Holy Cross was how to think. More important than any specific major or any specific class, it was how to think critically."

Jon Favreau

"What I learned at Holy Cross was how to think. More important than any specific major or any specific class, it was how to think critically," Favreau said. "It was the importance of service and really how to connect it all. That's what I think is so important about the D.C. Semester Program, in my experience ,is that I was able to connect what I was learning in the classroom and what I was doing in the community in Worcester, and then how that connects to the wider world."

Favreau said Holy Cross helped him find his political passion. In Worcester, he participated in community programs, which often relied on politicians for aid or to pass legislation.

Through the Washington Semester Program, Favreau worked for U.S. Senator John Kerry at about the time he began planning a presidential campaign in 2004. 

"Connecting the service I was doing at Holy Cross with where decisions were being made — which many of them were being made in Washington, D.C. — it really sort of brought it all together for me," Favreau said. "When I did the internship program, that's when I knew I was going to be in politics whether I like it or not."

Jon Favreau, Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau and Provost Margaret Freije sit on a stage

During the conversation about the program's 50th anniversary, Rougeau emphasized the importance of individuals participating in the country's democracy to avoid further deterioration of the nation's ideals. 

More than participation, though, Holy Cross' president stressed the importance of collaboration with individuals who may not always see eye-to-eye, noting it's important to remember the people at the negotiating table are still human beings.

"Our democracy is in trouble and we have to really think carefully about what we value about living in a democratic society," Rougeau said. "Many of the things Jon talked about, the ability to speak across difference, is critical. The recognition of the fact that we share a geographic and political space that doesn't necessarily mean we have to agree all the time and, frankly, that's impossible, but also requires a sense and ability to compromise — a recognition that you don't win every argument in a democratic society."