Not every Western alumnus can tell a packed crowd in the Underground Coffeehouse of the time they introduced Kendrick Lamar to former President Barack Obama.
Jesse Moore graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2005 and served President Obama through two terms and both presidential campaigns. He was a White House speechwriter and associate director for public engagement. During his time at the White House, he acted as the president’s chief liaison to entertainment industry partners and faith-based organizations.
“I was a speechwriter for awhile, but the last year and a half or so I was the president’s director of entertainment industry engagement, which was, ‘How do we engage entertainers to make sure that policy priorities are being pushed by people with big influence, or by the types of content that’s making it to air?’” Moore said. “I worked quietly behind the scenes for years to try to soften up the ground to get the president to meet with a bunch of hip-hop artists.”
Moore was an admissions officer at Western in 2007 when he left to volunteer for the Obama campaign in Nevada. Moore used all of his vacation days to fly to Nevada and rent a car on his own dime.
“I was an unpaid volunteer for three or four weeks,” Moore said. “I caught pneumonia. It was the hardest work I’d ever done in my life, it was horrifically challenging. But they kept hiring me state after state.”
From there, Moore moved on to Seattle where he organized voter-protection attorneys and assisted prominent politicians. He worked as a regional field director and political officer in several states. After Obama won the election, Moore accepted a political appointment as a media spokesman and strategist at the Department of Health and Human Services. Soon after, he was working in the White House.
Moore credits a lot of what he’s accomplished to skills he picked up while studying at Western, where he was involved with the Ethnic Student Center and served as the Associated Students President for Diversity.
“I think, as a student, but especially working in the Ethnic Student Center and the AS, I really started to hone my writing abilities as a strategist,” Moore said. “I had big ideas, I had tough obstacles like a lot of other students, and I found success through writing very specifically and trying to write really elegant plans of attack and strategy.”
Admissions counselor Jacob Joens-Poulton was familiar with Moore’s work and decided to attend the lecture.
“I saw [the event] on Facebook and thought, ‘I have to go,’” Joens-Poulton said. “Especially considering the current [political] climate.”
Moore got the opportunity to voice his thoughts on the current state of politics during the lecture.
“Politics looks like a dumpster fire right now. It looks terrible, and I totally get why people are turning away,” Moore said. “This, to me, is a defining moment not just for our country, but for the democrat ic experiment. It seems like a moment where we figure out, as a wedge is driven deeper between us, can we get enough people to run into the fire; to run toward what seems to be falling apart, to save it?”
When Moore entered the Underground Coffeehouse Tuesday evening, Brent Mallinckrodt, dean of Western’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, presented him with the Young Alumnus of the Year award. Mallinckrodt said the award is given to graduates who’ve made a big impact in the field, and Moore’s influence in politics and the campaign made him this year’s clear winner.
“We wanted to bring him back to campus to tell his life story, and I hope he inspires people tonight to go out and do whatever their dream is to make a difference,” Mallinckrodt said. “Maybe they’ll be the future winner of this award.”
Junior Jackson Spencer was one of those students who was inspired by what Moore had to say. Spencer said he liked Moore’s speaking style and what was covered in the lecture.
“I really liked how open it was,” Spencer said. “I like how he said something that wasn’t super popular at Western. He talks a lot about embracing other people’s ideas. Coming from a different political environment, it’s very exclusive here, sometimes.”
Today, Moore owns his own business, Common Threads Strategies, where he’s an independent consultant that does a combination of strategic and crisis communications. He’s the chief communications strategist at Pop Culture Collaborative, an organization that grants funds to projects that try to transform what’s on TV to make it more authentic and helpful, with regard to racial and social justice. He’s also an internal reform consultant for law enforcement agencies, training around 200 police a month to help them build and execute their strategy.
Moore said he hopes something he said excites students the same way a guest speaker’s words years ago excited him.
“I imagine my name has already been forgotten by a lot of people who were here today, but hopefully there was something that was said that piqued their interest,” Moore said. “Maybe they wrote it down, maybe they’ll remember it, maybe it’ll come back in an unconscious moment of clarity years down the road. So, we’ll see.”