posted on: Thursday April 12, 2018
by Marla Gagne ’18
Editor in Chief
Providence College has announced that highly acclaimed author and historian David McCullough will be presenting the Commencement Address at the College’s 100th Commencement exercises.
McCullough, known as “one of the great American writers,” is a highly respected teacher, lecturer, and television personality. The Pittsburgh native and Yale University alumnus has received two Pulitzer prizes for his biographies, John Adams and Truman, and was also awarded two National Book Awards and the Francis Parkman Prize. Additionally, McCullough received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award possible, under President George W. Bush in 2006.
The historian is known for his unique way of retelling history, bringing new understanding to American life, and providing insight into the individuals’ accomplishments, struggles, and hardships. This spirit was captured in his most recent book, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Wright Brothers, as well as works including The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 1776, Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path Between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, and Brave Companions. In honor of his work, McCullough has been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Gold Medal for Biography given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
McCullough first became acquainted with PC in October of 2013, when he presented the keynote address at the dedication ceremony for the Ruane Center for the Humanities. In his remarks, McCullough stressed the importance of a liberal arts education and understanding the human side of history. “I feel to the depths of my being that this emblematic new building is not only a step in the right direction for Providence College, but for our country,” said McCullough. “We need to be reminded about who we are and how we got to be who we are.”
Inspired by his colorful way of retelling history, Ann Manchester-Molak ’75, assistant to the president and executive vice president/treasurer and chair of the commencement committee, knew that he would make the perfect speaker. “We actually offered him the position on the spot that year,” said Manchester-Molak. Personal and professional commitments would make McCullough unable to commit not only for that year, but for the following years—until this year, that is.
Each year the commencement committee, made up of faculty, current students, administrators, and alumni, reviews all community suggestions and revisits approved candidates from past years who were not able to commit. When considering candidates, committee members look to find a gifted speaker and someone who can “bring an inspiring message to the graduate class in their last lecture.”
The committee was excited to find McCullough finally available, and believed his mix of teaching, entertainment, and moral fiber would set high expectations for the event. “He makes readers and audiences…recognize and understand that which is extraordinary about ordinary men and women,” said Manchester-Molak.
Along with his literary works and academic pursuits, McCullough is also known for one of his physical traits—his voice. The storyteller is often recognized for his work hosting the The American Experience and narration in the movie Seabiscuit. His voice wowed the PC audience in his original keynote address. “I don’t know what God is going to sound like when we finally get there, but it’s either James Earl Jones or David McCullough,” Father Brian Shanley, O.P., said.
Coming off an important centennial anniversary and the upcoming celebration of PC’s 100th graduating class, Manchester-Molak and the committee felt McCullough would help the College “help us recognize our historic moment” with a “powerful speech.”
And for those students who are unfamiliar with McCullough, Manchester-Molak suggests keeping an open mind. As students listen to their last lecture, she says to know that “McCullough will show you the value of history, [the value of] the education you were just given, and the excitement of the future.”
McCullough, who has received 55 honorary degrees and will be receiving a doctor of letters honorary degree from PC, is one of six recipients receiving an honorary degree, including: Joseph P. Brum ’68, the founding father of PC’s alumni relations program; Brian Maher ’68, former director of the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center at Farmingdale College; Larry Rachleff, former music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra; Lisa M. Schenck ’83, associate dean for academic affairs at the George Washington University School of Law; and Beverly Daniel Tatum, a clinical psychologist, author, and former president of Spelman College.
The Commencement Ceremony will take place Sunday, May 20 at 11:00 a.m. at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, 1 LaSalle Square, Providence.