How one graduate from a not-so-famous college made it big

Jon Favreau was just a twenty six year-old kid when he wrote President Obama’s inauguration address (he did it on his laptop at Starbucks).  Today, he’s not even thirty and he’s the Chief White House speechwriter.  Time Magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.  I don’t care what your politics are—most people would agree that this guy is pretty successful.   When asked how he got here, Favreau once told an interviewer,

“It all started because of Holy Cross.”

College of the Holy Cross isn’t on my list of the 40 colleges in the country where all the bad admissions news is true.  About 65% of their students were ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes; 95% of Princeton’s students can make that claim.  Holy Cross admits almost half of the students who apply; Stanford admits 9 out of every 100. 

But if there’s ever been someone who’s proven that it’s not where you go to college, it’s what you do while you’re there, John Favreau’s your guy.

Back in college, “Favs” as his friends call him studied political science. He volunteered at the local welfare office and started a project defending the rights of welfare recipients.  He was the editor of the opinion section of the school newspaper.  Then he took advantage of Holy Cross’s “Washington Semester” where he moved to Washington DC and interned for Senator John Kerry.  His junior year, he was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar, winning a $30,000 scholarship awarded to 75 students nationwide each year who have extensive records of public and community service and are committed to careers in public service.  He was named valedictorian of his graduating class and showed everyone in attendance that he had speechwriting chops in his address that closed with:


There seems to be one last bulletin here that Career Planning forgot to drop in our mailboxes.  Now, I realize that most of us already have jobs, but all of these positions are part time, and I’m sure all of us have the necessary qualifications. The employers are our communities, and while each position is already being filled by millions all over the world, there is a desperate need for more help. And here’s some of what we need:

Soccer coaches, Den Mothers, PTA members, Neighbors who help you move in and promise to keep in touch when they move you out, Friends who come early and stay late, Shoulders to cry on, Big Brothers and Sisters, Family comedians, Tee Ball Umpires, Letter-to-the-Editor authors, Voters who care about any issue from Traffic Lights and Tax Reform to Potholes and Peace on Earth, Organizers and Activists, Critics and Supporters, Voices for those who are having trouble getting theirs heard, Summertime Porch-Sitters with special degrees in talking about everything and nothing until the mosquitoes bite, Mentors, Philanthropists, Signature collectors, Boo-boo fixers, Grocers to the hungry, Roofers to the homeless, and Believers—especially believers.”

A few years later when then-Senator Barack Obama interviewed Favreau to join his office as a speechwriter, Obama asked him how he got started in politics and what originally got him interested.

Favreau told him about the welfare office where he volunteered back in college.  At the end of the interview, Obama hired him on the spot. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to go to a famous college to be successful.  It’s what you do while you’re there, not where you go, that matters.