David McCullough Delivers Inspiring Address
David McCullough Delivers Inspiring Address

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough visited The Episcopal Academy to share more about his background, his research and writing methods, and his take on education, history, and the human spirit.

Mr. McCullough's special presentation was the first in the newly-established Walter W. Buckley, Jr. '55 American History Lecture Series. After speaking to Upper School students, faculty, the Buckley family, and other special guests in the Class of 1944 Chapel, Mr. McCullough visited with Upper School history classes and hosted an open forum during which students had the opportunity to ask him questions about his work and experiences.

"I have had a wonderful time with my work," shared Mr. McCullough. "I have never undertaken a subject I knew much about."

Mr. McCullough recalled his work as an English major in college. "I had no idea I wanted to write history when I graduated from college," said Mr. McCullough. "The process of learning does not end with the commencement from college. It's just getting started."

"Do not pass by the liberal arts in your education. It's so easy to say, I'll major in this, or I'll major in that because that is where the jobs are," observed Mr. McCullough. "Education has to do with the human condition."

Mr. McCullough went on to speak about the importance of history in all of our lives. "No matter what line of work you choose, history will serve you all of your life. And once you get embedded in the joy of history, you will want to know more and more and more. That's one of the miracles of the human mind. Curiosity is accelerative like gravity. The more you know, the more you want to know, and may it always be so."

"It was an amazing opportunity for Episcopal to have David McCullough come here. He spoke inspiringly about his love for history and America and I was very impressed," said Noble Brigham '20. "Mr. McCullough had a great sense of humor and for someone so significant, was surprisingly modest. I think that every student, not just those interested in history, enjoyed his visit."

"I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Mr. McCullough's inspiring and insightful message," shared Elle Ruggiero '18. "Throughout his discussion, he reinforced the indispensable value of a good education, opening our eyes to the importance of a firm understanding of our history and the power of a mastery of the English language."

Mr. McCullough published his first book in 1968 about The Johnstown Flood. "If I knew all about the subject I was embarking on, I wouldn't want to write the book," he shared. For me, writing the book is an adventure. It's a journey. It's putting my feet on a continent I have never been to before. Once I got going, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I loved it."

He recently wrote about the Wright brothers and is currently working on a book about American pioneers in the Northwest Territory. "I have no degree as a historian. I was an English major. But I am a writer. I write about how it really was and the people really were," explained Mr. McCullough. "The human experience is what history is about. History is human. It's about people."

Through conducting in-person interviews and immersing himself in letters, diaries, and memoirs, he brings history alive for his readers.

"History is not just about war and politics, though war and politics are a big part of it, and history is not about memorizing dates or quotations or statistics. It's about the experience of people who went before us who were just as real, just as alive, just as human as we are. And who knew a lot more in many ways than we know," said Mr. McCullough.

He recalled the life of the Wright brothers who did not attend college and had limited formal education, "but it was a house full of books." Their father emphasized reading and to have a purpose in life. "The good life was not accumulating material possessions or money. The good life was having worthy purpose."

"People ask me how much time do I spend doing research and how much time do I spend writing. But it leaves something very important out. How much time do I spend thinking?" explained Mr. McCullough. "Thinking about the research, thinking about these characters and never passing by the secondary characters because very often they are the ones you can learn the most from."

"David McCullough doesn't just connect people to history. He connects with the people for whom the history being made today will prove most important: our students," said Upper School History Department Chair Chuck Bryant.

McCullough explained that history is part of art, music, medicine, and science. "It's about the human achievements and experiences and what can we learn from those who went before us and failed. Why did they fail? And why did some others succeed?"

Mr. McCullough closed by urging students to truly appreciate their teachers. "Our teachers are doing the most important work of anybody in our civilization, anybody in our country, because they are shaping the oncoming generations. It looks to me that they are doing a particularly good job right now. The idea that your generation is out there marching, protesting, urging gun control is heartening to all of us. And, more spirit the better. You can make a difference."

"When asked about our nation's future, he answered with whole-hearted optimism, telling us that our generation exhibits the necessary drive, persistence, and ability to incite a positive change," said Elle. "He inspired us to pursue our passions and to never stop learning. His lecture provided the Episcopal community with a scholarly perspective, intertwining the past, present, and future."

"The students connected with him, because he connected with them," shared Mr. Bryant. "It is no wonder one of our students gave him a hug after the small group meeting! A David McCullough lecture is not simply an opportunity to hear from America's historian, but also a chance to connect, on a very human level, with a man whose passion for history, the English language, and especially people is as prodigious as is his research and writing."