On Friday night, Jonathan Lovett ’04, a former speechwriter for Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, kicked off FrankFest 2016 with a talk titled “Good at Math (For a Writer).” The conference celebrated Frank Morgan, professor of mathematics, who will retire at the end of the academic year after 29 years at the College.
Colin Adams and Cesar Silva, professors of mathematics, organized FrankFest, which included Lovett’s presentation and other talks on Friday and Saturday about mathematics and Morgan’s contributions to the College. The goal was to honor his legacy and allow students to explore the field of mathematics.
Lovett majored in mathematics and conducted research for his senior thesis with Morgan. “I am so honored that you asked me to come and give a talk,” Lovett said.
Lovett used charts and his experience with standup comedy to create a tribute to the College’s math department, his work after graduation and Frank Morgan.
Despite his focus on math while at the College, Lovett had always wanted to get involved with stand-up comedy and writing. He landed a job as a speech writer at the White House for three years and wrote for both Clinton and Obama. This was not part of Lovett’s plan.
“I just wanted to keep doing that and move forward in politics,” he said. Eventually he changed his mind. “I imagined doing stand-up and writing,” Lovett said. He recalled that he did not think he could figure out what he wanted to do without leaving politics, but that he also couldn’t leave politics until he found something else to do.
Eventually he left Washington D.C. and bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles, where he met with The Fox Broadcasting Company. “It was luck and good timing,” Lovett said. He met with the director of the popular television show Modern Family and received assistance in writing his own show, 1600 Penn.
Lovett credits much of his post graduate success to his math classes at the College.
“Math, without a doubt, became central to how I became a speech writer,” he said. His job as a speechwriter involved taking complicated things and simplifying them. Lovett had to deal with extremely sensitive matters as well as mishaps with potentially detrimental consequences. “I was able to be the person sitting at the desk who had to boil things down and avoid catastrophes. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the lessons and experiences I had here,” he said.
Throughout his presentation, Lovett spoke about the impact Morgan has had on his life. He recalled the day that he learned general relativity. “You now know general relativity,” Morgan said to the class. “You may call me Frank.” This was a defining moment in Lovett’s math career at the College.
Lovett said, “It meant a lot to me. It was from that class that we wrote the thesis together.”
During his time at the White House, Lovett gave Morgan a tour. “I don’t believe I would have been working there if not for that class, and not because I learned a lot about math. I like to believe it’s because you knew there were people better at math but that I could benefit from math, even though you might not have benefited much from me,” Lovett said to Morgan. He ended his presentation by mentioning the qualities he admires most about Morgan, including his honor and refusal to make excuses. “I’m grateful to you,” Lovett said.
“I didn’t realize how important being a math student was for me until I walked into the Faculty House today. It’s the best math department in the world because they are brilliant and decent people who care about their students,” said Lovett.