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Guest column| Jack Levine

Writer David McCullough offers lessons of a modern sage

Sometimes we believe there is no better place to be than right there in the moment.

That was my feeling recently when I heard David McCullough speak. The 74-year-old, two-time Pulitzer Prize-honored historian, author of numerous books including 1776, John Adams and Truman, captivated his audience with compelling messages about the vital link we all have to our individual and collective pasts.

"Everything we have in our culture, all cultures, is the result of someone leading the way for us, paving the path to an uncertain but inevitable future," he said. "By documenting the thoughts, deeds and determination of people who preceded us, we learn how to become the people we need to be."

The setting for the lecture was the launch of the Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida, named for Bob Graham former Florida governor and U.S. senator. The center's prime mission is nurturing a new generation of public sector leaders to be the stewards of our sacred civic duty to participate in government.

McCullough spoke with eloquence about the importance of writing as an exercise in higher thought and his perception that for lack of frequent and substantive writing, we are not reaching our full intellectual potential.

McCullough decried the retreat from the arts in our educational institutions and expressed his concern that our cultural heritage cannot withstand a generation of neglect, for it may never be recaptured.

The messages I received from this once-in-a-lifetime experience resonate as I advocate for creative approaches to bridge the generations. The wisdom of our elders, their treasury of experience, and the connection they hold to life's lessons are among our most valued assets as family members and a society. The more we learn about our past, the more we are able to address the challenges of our future.

To learn more about David McCullough's life and works, I recommend this Wikipedia link:

Please consider these 10 suggestions, rooted in the messages I heard from McCullough:

1. Keep a journal, writing down perceptions, observations and creative thoughts.

2. Share family history by creating a remembrances album highlighting the names and key reflections on those who preceded us. Sharing special stories will give the younger generation the gift of recollection and belonging.

3. Write letters to family and friends whom we rarely see.

4. Schedule occasional trips to historic sites and learn about the era, the events and the significance of the place.

5. Visit museums and absorb the various artistic and cultural offerings on display to nurture a new level of appreciation for the diversity which is human creation.

6. Advocate for a cause by expressing your opinion to elected officials who represent us. This nation was founded on the promise of representative government, and each of us has the opportunity and obligation to exercise our right to free speech.

7. Thank teachers for their dedication, and support quality education by advocating the diverse curriculum our children need to be truly educated.

8. Read more, watch TV less, and give children the tools they need to stimulate their brains and build healthier bodies.

9. Visit with a neighbor to offer a friendly word and share a sense of connection and community.

10. Become the positive force and partner you wish others to be.

Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee. His e-mail address is

Writer David McCullough offers lessons of a modern sage 04/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 7:11pm]
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