Sarah Hurwitz ’04 found herself “pretty lost” in her third year at Harvard Law School and missing her previous life as a political speechwriter.
So when a classmate asked in the fall of 2003 whether she might like to write for Wesley Clark’s presidential campaign, she said yes—eventually. Her first job on Capitol Hill, when she was just a year out of Harvard College, hadn’t gone very well since she couldn’t quite capture her boss’s voice. And the prospect of missing classes during her final year of law school shuttling back and forth to Arkansas terrified her.
“But I sat back and really started to think about it and realized that if … my real passion was government and politics, then I’d better do this,” Hurwitz said during a panel discussion at Harvard Law School’s Celebration 60 in 2013.
Clark left the race early, but her work on the campaign set Hurwitz on a course to work as Hillary Clinton’s chief speechwriter during the 2008 presidential race and then serve in the same role for first lady Michelle Obama ’88.
It was on the Clark campaign, Hurwitz said, that she learned how to be a good speechwriter while working alongside Josh Gottheimer ’04. That job led to another for Hurwitz with Democratic nominee John Kerry. She worked as an associate at WilmerHale before returning to the campaign trail in February 2007 with the Clinton campaign.
After helping draft Clinton’s concession speech, Hurwitz received an email from Sen. Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, who followed up a few days later with a phone call offering her a job. Obama called to thank her after she wrote her first speech for him and welcomed her to the campaign.
Hurwitz began working with Michelle Obama on her speech to the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver. After writing speeches for President Obama, she would go on to work with the first lady almost exclusively for nearly six years.
“The defining truth about working with the first lady is this: She always knows what she wants to say—period,” Hurwitz told the Bulletin. “She has an unwavering sense of who she is and exactly what points she wants to make.”
Hurwitz has worked largely out of the public eye at the White House. There were occasional exceptions, such as a TV documentary that aired on cable networks including MTV and Nickelodeon in which she described how her public school education in Wayland, Massachusetts, paved the way for her career.
Her public profile grew considerably in July, when Melania Trump borrowed several lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, which Hurwitz helped write.
Hurwitz has not commented publicly about the incident, but the irony was not lost on her former colleague Favreau, who noted in a tweet that Hurwitz had previously worked for Clinton. “So the Trump campaign plagiarized from a Hillary speechwriter,” Favreau wrote.
Hurwitz said she “loved working with Mrs. Obama on her three convention speeches” but also described as favorites some lesser-known speeches the first lady has delivered, including this year’s commencement speeches at the Santa Fe Indian School and the City College of New York.
“For me, speechwriting is about telling the stories that too often just don’t get told,” Hurwitz said. “There’s a lot of quiet daily heroism in this country—people who get up every day and build lives driven by love, courage, and self-sacrifice.”
Accompanying the first lady to the New York commencement made Hurwitz think of her great-great-grandmother who’d wanted her daughters to attend “one of the great public universities in New York City.” “That didn’t happen, but it was pretty moving all these years later to walk onto the campus of one of these schools with the first lady of the United States,” Hurwitz said.
Hurwitz, among the few White House staffers to have served through Obama’s entire two terms, declined to say whether she would have any interest in staying on should her former boss win in November.
“I’m not sure what comes next,” she said. “For now, I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”