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Rice alumnus writes speeches for Obama

By Hallie Jordan     2/24/11 6:00pm

President Barack Obama's foreign policy speech writer - and a Rice University alumnus - Benjamin Rhodes came to Rice on Monday to describe working for the president to a student-filled James A. Baker III Institute Doré Commons.Primarily, Rhodes demonstrated how he thought writing for Obama was like writing for the entire world.

"Thing you realize when you are a presidential speech writer is the number of audiences you have," Rhodes said. "The American people first and foremost but also a broader global audience. It's kind of weird to know when you are writing a speech that Osama bin Laden is going to read it."

Rhodes went on to describe how he works with Obama to create a speech - primarily Rhodes listens while Obama explains what he wants to say and then creates draft after draft as Obama edits.

"You have to know that the first draft is not the final one, and you have to have the humility to know that your opinion is not the most important."

The recent conflicts in Egypt turned out to be very exciting and stressful, Rhodes said.

"Each day that Mubarak spoke we had to turn around a presidential statement almost immediately," Rhodes said. "So you are drafting something for the president that you know is going to be consumed by billions of people around the world in a matter of minutes and hours."

Though stressful for a speech writer, Rhodes said he and the Obama administration view the uprisings in Egypt to be a positive change.

"We see the protests as opportunities and not as crises," he said. "With all the instability in the region, when people are standing up for universal rights, that's a good thing."

Rhodes began working for Obama as a campaign speech writer before the president had won the primaries.

"It was a pretty diverse job," Rhodes said. "You can work on a speech for the president to give to 30,000 people or something for 40 people in a backyard in Iowa. We covered the map of American politics."

Rhodes graduated from Rice in 2000 and moved to Washington D.C. after spending a year in New York City where he witnessed 9/11.

"I wanted to figure out how to attune my life to what was going on in the world," Rhodes, who is also Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, said.

He strongly encouraged students to actively seek out jobs.

"If you show up and are confident and work hard, doors have a way of opening for people," Rhodes said. "I found myself matched to the job.

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