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University of Missouri

Windy City Wonder

Tarrah Cooper returns home to Chicago and big-time politics.

Tarrah Cooper and Rahm Emanuel

Tarrah Cooper, at right, is press secretary for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, center. Photo by Patrick Pyszka.

Tarrah Cooper had so much fun during spring break her senior year that she almost didn’t come back to MU and finish her degree. But don’t think she was off skiing or beachcombing. Cooper, BJ ’08, was volunteering in Pennsylvania for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Under the guidance of Adora Andy Jenkins, BJ ’03, the campaign’s state press secretary, Cooper dug into the work. “I felt like what I was doing was really making a difference,” says Cooper, now press secretary for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Cooper recalls the time a young mother came into the campaign office with questions about the presidential race and politics in general: How might Medicare change? What about her daughter’s educational options? Would violence in Philadelphia decrease?

“Those are things we would hear about in journalism, but I was able to talk with her about how they applied to her life,” Cooper says. “I learned at Mizzou that journalism and politics have a similar goal, which is to provide people with information they need to be self-sovereign.” That Philadelphia experience showed Cooper how she could combine her passions for journalism, storytelling and service by working in the political realm.

Cooper, who grew up near Chicago in Oak Park, Ill., has worked for Emanuel since 2010, when she started as deputy press secretary. Within a few months, she was promoted to press secretary, a position in which she not only helps shape policy but also communicates it as Emanuel’s spokesperson. Despite the long hours and rare days off, Cooper says, it’s a privilege to serve.