As a GW Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Steven Kelly, BA ‘18, told stories on stage through acting and playwriting. Now, he’s taking his experience and knowledge from the School of Media and Public Affairs to a global stage as a speechwriter for Vice President Kamala Harris.
Did you receive a scholarship at GW? If yes, how did your scholarship help you succeed?
I was a Presidential Scholar in the Arts with a concentration in Acting. During my time at GW, I performed in a number of shows, both with the Department of Theatre and Dance and with student theatre groups. I also did some playwriting. It was valuable training for speechwriting. Plays, like speeches, are written to be delivered. Both must be written for the eye, rather than the ear. So you have to use simple language and straightforward sentence construction. Short sentences are a plus, too.
Tell us about your current role as a speechwriter and why it excites you.
I am the Associate Director of Speechwriting in the Office of the Vice President. It is exciting to work on different issues every day, and to see the real impact of the administration’s work. It is truly an honor to serve.
What accomplishment are you most proud of personally or professionally and why?
A few years ago, I helped a woman write a speech about her experience as a cancer survivor, to be delivered to an audience of people who had recently received cancer diagnoses. It was a special moment. Most people have stories to tell. It is a speechwriter's job to help them convey that story — as directly and honestly as possible. In almost all cases, simple is better. If you’re trying to write the next Great Line, you’re likely doing too much.
Was there a standout course, professor, or organization from your time as a student that inspired your career path?
The School of Media and Public Affairs is as close to a trade school for speechwriters that exists. Studying at SMPA gave me the opportunity to learn from, speak to, and work with some great writers and speechwriters. And, more than anything else, it was the leadership of Frank Sesno that made SMPA a place where all that could happen.
What is your only-at-GW moment?
Late-night monument runs are hard to beat.