Acclaimed author plugs leadership

Hundreds flock to see biographer, historian David McCullough

The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 01, 2004

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough speaks at a Kelly Writers House luncheon. The historian was also featured in the SAS Dean's Forum

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough speaks at a Kelly Writers House luncheon. The historian was also featured in the SAS Dean's Forum

Photo by Norma Chen/The Daily Pennsylvanian

Interweaving historical anecdotes and personal opinions on leadership, author and historian David McCullough entranced the audience at the 2004 School of Arts and Sciences Dean's Forum with his soothing voice and powerful message in his lecture "Qualities of Leadership."

"A great leader like [former U.S. President Harry] Truman," McCullough said, "sees what is best for people in the long run, not what serves them now. Popularity and leadership have never gone hand in hand."

McCullough's speech, which was held before a packed Irvine Auditorium crowd, was the highlight of the yearly Dean's Forum, which honors several graduate and undergraduate students in the College for outstanding achievement. The ceremony began with an introduction by SAS Dean Samuel Preston, who then presented the 21 selected students with certificates, a gift of $250 and signed copies of McCullough's book, John Adams.

"These students represent the very best of what the School of Arts and Sciences is about," Preston said.

Preston then went on to introduce the keynote speaker by giving an insight into McCullough's background and by saying that he has made history popular for the public through his works.

McCullough seemed to be honored by the opportunity to speak at the University.

"Our universities are as high in achievement as any in any civilization today, and that is a tremendous compliment," McCullough said.

Throughout his lecture, McCullough offered a laundry list of leadership qualities that he feels are important. Courage, optimism, knowledge and education were among his picks, along with a strong perception of the future, a sense of humor -- which he said is "a cushion against adversity and tough times" -- common sense, experience with failure and a good heart.

These examples were intertwined with an array of stories from the author's historical research.

"I don't know any leader that doesn't have high energy and a true sense of proportion, which comes from a good grasp of history," he added.

McCullough -- whose two most recent biographies, Truman and John Adams, earned him Pulitzer Prizes and were mainstays on The New York Times Best-Seller List -- also spoke at the Kelly Writers House earlier in the day to a smaller lunch group. He recently narrated the movie Seabiscuit and is currently working on a new biography of George Washington and the Continental Army in 1776.

"Washington was not brilliant, nor was he charming or a good speaker," McCullough said. "But he had backbone, he was a very good judge of people, and he never quit."

Many in attendance were visibly moved by McCullough's speech.

"He was incredibly intellectual and practical, and I really liked what he chose to speak about," College sophomore Melissa Fellman said. "Students can really take away a lot of wisdom from him."

College sophomore Michael Pass echoed Fellman's thoughts. "It was really good," he said. "He is a fantastic writer and a very interesting speaker."

McCullough concluded the lecture by addressing the students who were awarded with the honor of Dean's Scholar.

"To those of you who were presented with awards tonight," he said, "if you are seeking an example of leadership, just look in the mirror."