From Strawberry Point to the White House: Speechwriter reflects - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

From Strawberry Point to the White House: Speechwriter reflects on last 8 years

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To be a speechwriter, your communication skills have to be sharp.

The expectations are off the charts when you’re a presidential speechwriter.

Tyler Lechtenberg, a Strawberry Point native, left the White House this week after 8 years in the Obama Administration.

He served as First Lady Michelle Obama’s correspondence director before writing speeches for her and then for President Obama.

"He (President Obama) is the best speechwriter among the group of us. He's a brilliant, brilliant communicator,” said Lechtenberg.

Lechtenberg graduated from Starmont before studying journalism at the University of Iowa. He spent time as a sportswriter for The Gazette and then moved to Portland. Lechtenberg came back to Iowa about 10 years ago to start on a path that would end with him in the White House. He became a field organizer for the Obama campaign, recruiting volunteers before the Iowa Caucuses.

After the 2008 election, Lechtenberg went to Washington with the president's team, starting on day 3 of the new administration.

KWWL asked which speeches over the years, or specific lines in speeches he wrote, stand out to him.

Lechtenberg said there are many, but identified a few examples.

"The one I think about is the last line for the UNI commencement speech by the first lady,” said Lechtenberg.

Michelle Obama ended her speech at UNI in 2011 with this line, "Whether your next step is New York or New Hartford, whether you're looking for a job in Des Moines or New Delhi, I want you to truly believe that you can kick off your shoes and walk around in the grass anywhere in the world. Because you can."

"She delivered the line with a lightness and optimism that I didn't expect. It's kind of an art and they are incredible artists overall,” said Lechtenberg.

He also singled out a speech by President Obama at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in September.

In that speech, the president said, “The very fact of this day does not prove that America is perfect, but it does validate the ideas of our founding, that this country born of change, this country born of revolution, this country of we, the people, this country can get better.”

"To see the president give that speech on the National Mall in front of this beautiful building... and it's a speech he gave us a download of on the front end. He really worked with me to get into the place where he wanted at the end… that was a pretty cool feeling,” said Lechtenberg.

Lechtenberg says he’s grateful for the twists of fate that took him from eastern Iowa to Washington, DC. He hopes that gratitude came through in his speechwriting.

"There is a goodness in Iowa that I think I hope I was able to carry into the White House. When the president talks about the goodness of the American people, I think about the doors I was knocking on in Iowa, I think about my kindergarten teacher, I think about my mom and my dad,” said Lechtenberg.

So was there a speech he wanted to write, but the moment never presented itself?

The former sportswriter pointed to the Iowa Hawkeyes perfect regular season a year ago and what it would’ve meant to host them at the White House as national champions.

"I was like, 'Is this going to happen?' I'm superstitious so I wasn't writing jokes yet for it, but I would be lying if I hadn't envisioned them coming,” said Lechtenberg.

He’s known for his jokes, whether it be in presidential speeches honoring the NBA champs or for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

So what next after an 8-year run on Pennsylvania Avenue?

He’s still working on that.

"I do like to write jokes. I do not think I have it in me to do it full-time,” said Lechtenberg.

Whatever happens next, he said he will always cherish writing the words millions of Americans heard through the president and first lady.

“It’s been such a crazy journey, someplace I never thought I would end up… but I’m really proud of the work we’ve done and proud to serve this president and first lady,” said Lechtenberg.

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