Speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz has written for famous political figures like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore. Last Friday, Hurwitz deviated from her usual position behind the curtain onto the stage of Kemper Auditorium.
In her presentation, “A White House Speechwriter’s Jewish Journey,” Hurwitz shared her experiences with her identity as a Jewish woman and writing in the White House, where she served as former First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief speechwriter.
“I think people often ask me, ‘How did you get [Michelle Obama’s] voice?’ And when they do… what I think they really want to ask is, ‘How did you, a white, Jewish girl from an upper-middle class suburb of Boston, get the voice of an African-American Christian woman from the South Side of Chicago?’ ” said Hurwitz during her talk.
Hurwitz’s visit was organized by the Jewish Student Union (JSU) as a part of Andover’s annual Jewish Cultural Weekend. JSU head Louis Aaron ’18 explained how Hurwitz embodied the example of a Jewish American who is able to reintegrate their cultural identity with their religious identity.
“It gives me optimism to see that there are people… who are able to transition from that idea of a cultural Jew to someone who really embraces [religious] observance and finds a way to make that meaningful,” said Aaron.
Audience member Akane Gonda ’18 said, “I thought that it was really powerful… What I thought was very interesting was not just that she is such a powerful woman, but also [that she is] still respectful towards her religion, and I admire that.”
According to Hurwitz, the residents of the White House shaped her experiences. She explained how working with Michelle Obama taught her to value authenticity.
“What she models with her life is just to always be relentlessly true to yourself. Just speak your truth. Say what you believe. Be authentic and just be true to yourself no matter what, because if you do that, you can be appeased,” said Hurwitz.
In her presentation, Hurwitz also spoke on the trajectory of her career. She informed the audience that speechwriting does not necessarily follow the linear path that one might assume.
“I think a lot of times, especially young people will look at a career like mine in politics and assume it was just this linear series of very organized successes… and yet the truth just could not be further from that idea,” said Hurwitz in her presentation.
She assured the audience that her career has been full of experiences that many would deem unsuccessful.
“What you see is two failed jobs, three losing campaigns, [and] many, many skipped law school classes. I don’t think anyone would look at this and say, ‘This is the resume of a winner,’ ” said Hurwitz. “Yet, I have a very typical resume of the people who wind up in the White House.”
Speaking directly to the younger members of the audience, Hurwitz expressed the importance of avoiding perfectionism and standing up to failure. She cited failures as experiences that allowed her to progress throughout her career.
“You get where you [are] by failing a lot — by screwing things up and by finding your way that way,” said Hurwitz.
After four years in the White House, Hurwitz decided to work on the White House Council on Women and Girls, which seeks to bring higher levels of female representation into government legislation.
“We wanted to make sure the needs of women and girls were being taken into consideration in every decision that was being made, every policy being considered, every executive order. Anything a federal agency was doing, we wanted to make sure women’s needs were being taken into account,” said Hurwitz.