An alumnus of UM and the White House
We connected with Patrick Cunnane, BSC ’10, who took some time to do a Q&A before heading to Canada to shoot an episode of ABC’s Designated Survivor. He’s currently writing for the show (which premiers November 29) after spending six years in the White House working directly with President Barack Obama. How did this Philadelphia native swap Philly cheesesteaks for cafecitos? What did Larry King and Dr. Phil have to do with his decision to head south? And how did he end up working at the White House just one month after graduation? We find out below.
Who are you?
My name’s Pat Cunnane. I was previously the President’s Senior Writer and Deputy Director of Messaging. I worked in the West Wing for the last five years and I’m now a writer on ABC’s Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland. I’m also writing a book called “West Winging It,” (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster). It’s a lighthearted but hopefully meaningful memoir about my time in President Obama’s White House. The Mark Gordon Company is attached to develop the book for TV.
Who or what paved the way to your accomplishments so far?
My family, my education and a whole lot of luck.
What did you picture for your career 10 years ago, and how does it differ from where you stand now?
Ten years ago I was a freshman and I had no clue what I wanted to do. A few years later, toward the end of my time at UM, I started taking screenwriting courses. So, I guess I hoped that maybe my career would turn out the way it is now, though I never could have foreseen the six-year stop in the White House.
What was your experience like working in the White House?
It was the most remarkable time of my life. I cannot believe how lucky I was to work for President Obama for so long and in such close proximity.
How would you describe your time here at UM?
UM was a wonderful place to go to school. I remember my senior year of high school, I was caught between UM and Georgetown in DC. My mom was adamant that I go to Georgetown (she loved politics and DC). We almost never disagreed, but my mom and I fought like crazy over where I should go. It got so bad that she jokingly called Larry King Live when he had Dr. Phil on as a guest. To her surprise, she actually got on – and to her chagrin, they agreed I should go to UM. So I did, and my parents grew to absolutely love it. My younger brother, Alex, even decided to attend UM, and he graduated in 2015. I think everything worked out pretty well. I wound up in DC anyway…
What do you think alumni will find most interesting about your story?
You never know where you’ll end up after graduation. Within a year of graduating from UM, I was traveling across the country and around the world with President Obama. I never would have thought that to be the case as I donned my graduation cap.
How did UM shape your life? How did it prepare you for where you are today?
It gave me the confidence to seize the opportunities that came my way and allowed me to hone my writing, which has opened a lot of doors, both in DC and now in LA.
Patrick and his wife, fellow alumna Stephanie Genuardi Cunnane, BSC ’10, currently live in Los Angeles. He proposed to her in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Watch this episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with President Obama and Jerry Seinfeld, which Patrick conceptualized, managed, and co-wrote. The episode shattered the series’ viewership records and helped it garner an Emmy nomination.