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Desson Thomson

Class of 1975, Speechwriter for the Motion Picture Association

It’s amazing what one small incident can do for the rest of your life. At City Freemen’s, when I was known as Desson Howe, in the Lower Sixth, I put on a screening of a film one Saturday night at the school hall. The headmaster at the time, Mr. Kemp, gave me extraordinarily positive feedback and I thought to myself, “I can do things like this!” Suddenly, my great passion, which was films, had a certain legitimacy.

When I went to college in the United States, I studied communications and cinema, which at the time was considered quite as commonplace as such a subject does now. And to cut a long story short, I would soon become the film critic for the Washington Post for more than 20 years. It was an enormously rewarding chapter in my life because – beyond being paid to watch movies – I had the opportunity to engage thousands of readers about a subject that, ultimately, is about life. What a privilege.

Life being the constantly changing, disruptive little creature it is (let’s just call it the arrival of the Internet), I left the Post in 2008 with a lot of working life still left to experience. I reinvented myself as a political speechwriter. Serving for seven years in the Obama administration, I had the unique (and frankly lucky, but isn’t it always?) opportunity to write for 14 months for then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. During those seven years I also wrote for a few Under Secretaries of State, and spent a year in the U.K., writing speeches for the American Ambassador to London. With the coming of the strangest individual to ever head the White House, I left the U.S. Government, and have worked in the private sector ever since, as a speechwriter for the Motion Picture Association where, amazingly for me, my experience as a film critic and a policy writer came together. It has been, and remains, an extraordinary journey that has included my lovely wife and three sons and a wonderful Labrador by the name of Zelda. There was also a great reunion with my birth father in Aberdeen in the early 2000’s, which led to the changing of my surname. It is a deeply satisfying thing to have the honor to make this life report on the Freemen’s wall. And to all those, past and present, at Freemen’s, I wish you all equally rewarding journeys of your own!

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