Alumni Weekend and Homecoming at the University of Miami is a time when alumni return to their alma mater to celebrate what it means to be a ‘Cane. This year, the School of Communication invited Patrick Cunnane, B.S.C. ’10, to share with students his journey since graduating.
In a conversation moderated by Jack Miller, assistant professor of professional practice, Cunnane spoke about his experience at UM, applying to intern at the White House, and how that opportunity led him to a career as a writer.
But he almost didn’t attend UM. In his senior year of high school, Cunnane was accepted to Georgetown University and UM. His parents wanted him to go to Georgetown; he wanted to go to UM. This led to months of arguments with his parents, particularly his mother, on where he would spend the next four years. In a strange twist, Cunnane ended up at UM because of Dr. Phil.
“Larry King was on CNN and had Dr. Phil on as a guest. My mom says ‘I’m calling in. Dr. Phil will tell us what to do.’,” said Cunnane.
Not thinking his mom would get through, Cunnane told her to go for it.
“Then, suddenly, I hear Larry King say ‘Hello Philadelphia!’ and my mom is on TV with Larry King,” said Cunnane.
Cunnane’s mom presented the family dilemma and asked Dr. Phil and Larry King where Cunnane should go for college.
“Larry King says ‘I didn’t go to college, but I got my start in radio at Miami, so I say Miami’,” said Cunnane.
Dr. Phil agreed with King, tells Cunnane the stone crabs are great and to pack for Miami. Cunnane didn’t wait for the segment to end, ran up the stairs to his bedroom, and packed his bags for The U.
“I ended up in Miami thanks to Dr. Phil and Larry King, and not Georgetown,” said Cunnane.
Although Cunnane ended up attending UM, he still made it to Washington D.C. after graduating. Cunnane was a big supporter of former President Obama, and his college roommate told him about the internship program for the White House. Cunnane thought after the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle, the program had been cancelled, but he googled it and, sure enough, the internship program was still active
“I applied right away, and got rejected. But what I did was, I applied again and I took it more seriously,” said Cunnane.
He was taking a class with former UM President Donna Shalala that semester and asked her for a letter of recommendation. He also focused more on the application essays and got accepted to the program. That internship turned into a six year career, five of which were spent in the West Wing.
Although he was accepted to the internship program and had his degree, his first days in the White House left him feeling out of place. He had a limited understanding of politics and of the day-to-day life of working in an office.
“A big thing for me is this idea of imposter syndrome. I think a lot of people feel that and, probably as college students, a lot of you are feeling it in different ways and will feel it as you leave here. It won’t go away. Dealing with that will be really important in progressing your career. I definitely felt like an imposter. The difference for me is that I was an imposter,” said Cunnane.
His parents walked him to his first day of work at the White House, much like they did for his first day of kindergarten. Already reeling from that embarrassment, he sat at his desk and his computer started blaring a Justin Bieber song, leaving everyone in the office staring at him. Luckily, he had a meeting to attend and he walked out of that extremely awkward situation hoping his first day of work would get better. After his meeting, he came back to his desk and came across a term he had never heard that he thought was a piece of legislation.
“I knew that I could’ve Googled it, and I probably should’ve Googled it, but I also wanted to tell my coworkers and my bosses that I was there to learn and to do a good job. My plan was to ask an informed question,” said Cunnane. “So what I did was turn to the guys who had previously heard Justin Bieber blaring from my computer and I said ‘What is a POTUS?’”
POTUS is the acronym for President of the United States. After that, Cunnane figured his time at the White House would be up after the three-month internship was over, but he worked hard, proved himself, and continued to grow professionally at the White House.
After the 2016 election, Obama’s time at the White House was over and Cunnane decided to try something different.
“When I came here [to UM], I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was majoring in political science because I was vaguely interested in politics, and journalism because I could write decently well. But ever since I was a kid, there was always something about screenwriting and writing for TV that was interesting to me,” said Cunnane.
Making this career move was risky to him, especially since he didn’t know anyone who worked as a screenwriter. He had taken a couple of courses in screenwriting at UM and, after his time at the White House, he wrote a pilot that received some attention. That pilot opened doors and allowed him to make connections in the industry. He moved to Hollywood and has been there for the past two years.
“If there is that thing that you’ve been thinking about for a while, take a couple of classes on it and really think about doing it. You’ll regret it if you don’t at least inquire a little bit about it,” said Cunnane.
Cunnane wrote several episodes for Designated Survivor and today Cunnane is working on The Jim Jefferies Show. He also wrote a book, West Winging It, and is developing it into a show for Comedy Central.