CENTER VALLEY, Pa. – Penn State Lehigh Valley Professor of Communications Arts and Sciences Nichola D. Gutgold has long been a firm believer in bringing guest speakers to her classroom. Not only do they come with fascinating anecdotes, but also valuable real-life context that broadens students’ understanding of course topics.
This semester alone, Gutgold has welcomed several guests to her courses, among them former U.S. representatives Pat Schroeder and John Faso; Penn State graduate Daniel Gregory, speechwriter for former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole; and Allentown resident of Ukrainian descent Svetlana Daniels.
Gutgold said she always strives to identify speakers who can provide students with “a firsthand, lived experience of something we are learning about in class.”
“Guests bring the course material alive for students, such as how speechwriters craft speeches for particular speakers and audiences,” she said. “I have always enriched the classes over the years with speakers, however, I think that this has been especially valuable during a time in our lives when many students feel isolated because of the pandemic.”
“I also think it provides students with inspiration in some cases,” Gutgold continued. “They can consider future options that they may not have considered after hearing a speaker or contacting a guest who may be able to help them identify an internship or career opportunity. Having speakers from other regions of the world, also expands students’ understanding of places they may not have visited or plan to travel to one day.”
Given the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, Daniels made for a very timely visitor to Gutgold’s Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course. The local property manager, who was born in Ukraine and raised in Russia before coming to the United States 15 years ago, provided students with “firsthand knowledge of what is a typical life for women in Ukraine and Russia,” according to Gutgold.
Those same students were treated to another illuminating discussion on the afternoon Schroeder and Faso visited the classroom via Zoom.
Both speakers discussed their political careers in detail, with Schroeder’s perspective particularly relevant to the class given her status as a true trailblazer for women politicians. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1997, the Colorado Democrat’s many legislative accomplishments include being one of the driving forces behind the passage of the Military Family Act of 1985 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
“When I was first elected to Congress, there were no women in the Senate and only about 15 in the House,” Schroeder said. “It’s been very slow for women in politics. We still aren’t near the proportion we make up of the country’s population.”
“Our legislative body is better having more women on both sides of the aisle,” said Faso, a Republican from upstate New York. “Today, there are a lot of great female politicians.”
On the subject of why no woman has yet to win the presidency, Schroeder told the class she thought it had a lot to do with lingering false public perceptions.
“We still have this macho, or I don’t know what it is – you know, you have to look ‘tough,’” said Schroeder, who briefly ran for president in 1987. “For women, it’s really hard to look tough.”
“I think we’ll see a female president in our lifetime. It will happen before too long,” Faso added.
Gregory drove from his Philadelphia area home to give students in Gutgold’s Effective Speech courses a close-up look at the life of a professional speechwriter.
He connected with Gutgold after reading a Penn State News article about Gutgold attending the December funeral of Elizabeth Dole’s husband, the late U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Bob Dole. Gutgold has written extensively about Elizabeth Dole in two books -- “Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Speaking from the Heart,” and “Gender and the American Presidency: Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced,” which includes a chapter on Dole’s 1999 presidential campaign.
After graduating from Penn State, Gregory moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a public affairs specialist for the Army, where he routinely wrote speeches for generals and other high-ranking military personnel. From there, he went to work for a public relations agency that initially put him in touch with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is devoted to serving military caregivers.
Gregory now has his own company, Declaration PR, which in addition to the Dole Foundation counts the USO and Honor Flight Network as clients. Besides writing speeches for Dole, he also crafts scripts for the foundation’s events. Through the years, he’s prepared remarks for celebrity foundation supporters like Tom Hanks, Savannah Guthrie, Darius Rucker, Tim McGraw and Adam Driver.
Each speaker comes with their own unique voice that Gregory strives to replicate. When writing for Dole, he works hard to bring out her warm, inviting manner and penchant for anecdotes and statistics. For Hanks, it’s his funny, irreverent personality, seemingly improvisational style of speaking and tendency to use repetition as a rhetorical device.
“You have to think about what kind of pace they speak at. How long are their words? Do they have more of a sing-song way of speaking, or is it more staccato?” Gregory said. “You have to listen to the words they like to use. What is unique about them that I’m going to infuse their speech with?”
Speechwriting is a unique talent, and a valuable one to have in one’s toolkit, Gregory told the students.
“It takes compassion, it takes empathy, it takes learning new things,” he said. “I want you to think of it as a skill, something you can get really good at, no matter the career path you take. Because every line of work has a speechwriting element to it.”