Writing to Restore Faith in Government

Alumna Emilie Karrick Surrusco’s journey from studying politics at Pitzer to joining the Biden administration as a speechwriter

Emilie K. Surrusco '96
Emilie Karrick Surrusco ’96

Emilie Karrick Surrusco ’96 stepped into the newsroom of a small local paper more than 25 years ago for an internship. From that moment on, she knew she was meant to be a writer. She can still reel off stories she wrote that summer for the Daily Pilot in Costa Mesa—from a store opening at Fashion Island to a profile of a high school student struggling to recover from a traumatic brain injury.

“My job was to be curious, to put into words my observations and the stories unfolding around me. It felt like heaven,” Surrusco said. “It still does.”

A career that started in Costa Mesa has taken her to Capitol Hill. Surrusco was recently appointed to be a speechwriter for Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the first Latina in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet. Her appointment was one of nearly 40 announced by the SBA in August.

“These dedicated public servants have answered the call to serve during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” SBA Chief of Staff Antwaun Griffin said in a release.

Surrusco answered that call for an opportunity to be part of the most diverse presidential cabinet in U.S. history and to play a role in restoring faith in government and appreciation for public service. She says Guzman’s fundamental focus on equity shapes her work for the SBA and in the Biden administration.

“For too long, small businesses owned by women and people of color have been denied access to the things they need to survive and thrive—capital, markets, and networks,” Surrusco said. “We’re working to change that, and in just six short months, we’ve already made progress. I know we can do so much more.”

Politics and public service are in Surrusco’s DNA. She grew up in DC in a political family. She majored in political studies and Asian studies at Pitzer, where she was encouraged to question, be curious, and work for the common good.

“It reinforced something that my parents always instilled in me—the idea that we are put here on Earth to make a difference,” she said. “My time at Pitzer showed me how I could make that difference, how I could drive change, as a writer.”

That idea has shaped her career. After Pitzer, she earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College. She went on to become a journalist, speechwriter, and communications strategist based in the Washington DC area, where she founded the Ellsworth Media Group and wrote for numerous progressive nonprofits, including Earthjustice. She also served in the Obama administration as senior speechwriter for a presidential Cabinet member.

Since graduating from Pitzer, she has seen a revolution in the way we communicate. “I remember one day in Pitzer’s computer lab seeing for the very first time something called the Internet,” she says. When she started her internship with the Daily Pilot during college, she was writing for a news organization whose primary platform was a paper that was delivered to people’s doorsteps.

“Despite those changes, I still believe that if I use my skills as a writer to tell the stories that would otherwise not be told, to express ideas about how we can make our country and our world better, then I’m on the right path.”