William McGurn has written speeches for a billionaire media mogul and a former president.
On Wednesday morning, he was the one delivering the address.
“Be there for people. Be cheerful. Be successful. Live the values of the school,” he said during a 45-minute talk with JSerra Catholic High School seniors. “If you do, you will be rich no matter how much money you make.”
McGurn was in town for an afternoon meeting with Orange County Catholic CEOs.
A long-time friend of JSerra founder Tim Busch, McGurn started his day at JSerra. He dispensed advice, fielded questions from inquisitive students and shared how his career path included a stop at the White House.
Currently Vice President at News Corporation, McGurn writes speeches for CEO Rupert Murdoch and pens the weekly Wall Street Journal’s “Main Street” column. Before that, he was President George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter.
He described the process of authoring a presidential address.
A junior writer would compose a first draft after researching the topics. McGurn and his deputy chief would review it by reading it aloud. The keys: short sentences and using language matching the president’s voice.
Then McGurn would send it out for “staffing” – a review by more than a dozen of the president’s senior staff.
Then McGurn’s team would incorporate the (sometimes conflicting) feedback. They would read it aloud again.
Finally, McGurn would meet with Bush for his input.
“President Bush was very good at formal speeches,” he said, noting his disciplined approach to preparation and practice.
What should students do if they want to become a presidential speechwriter?
McGurn said his journey would be impossible to replicate.
“Create your own opportunities,” he said. “If somebody offers you a job, go talk to them.”
Get involved in a political campaign. While in college, volunteer to be a White House intern, he suggested.
No matter what you do, he told the students, “don’t lose sight of your moral compass.”
“You are here to be different,” said McGurn. “You have teachers who really care for you. The best way for you to honor them is to succeed… and to keep in touch.”