Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

A newly published book of speeches by David McCullough, one of America’s most distinguished historians, includes his Commencement address to Boston College’s Class of 2008. 

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For is a collection of talks given during the past 25 years by the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Presidential Medal of Honor recipient, author of books such as Truman, 1776, John Adams, The Wright Brothers and Mornings on Horseback, and narrator of the PBS “Civil War” series. Released “at a time of self-reflection in America following a bitter election campaign that has left the country divided,” according to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, The American Spirit “reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe.”

"Read, read, read! Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history?" David McCullough to the BC Class of 2008

McCullough’s speech at BC, titled “The Love of Learning,” included his memorable line “Read, read, read! Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history.” 

McCullough, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Commencement, continued: “How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history? Read into the history of Greece and Rome. Read about the great turning points in the history of science and medicine and ideas.” 

McCullough, in asking the graduates to make “love of learning central to your life,” also implored them to cure “the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation,” citing the “relentless, wearisome use of the words ‘like’ and ‘you know’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘actually.’”

But he also credited the “energetic part” the graduates’ generation was playing in the 2008 election: “Keep that idealism alive. Make a difference.”

At the end, he urged the Class of 2008 to “get the best jobs you can and go to work with spirit. Don’t get discouraged. And don’t work just for money. Choose work you believe in, work you enjoy. Money enough will follow. Believe me, there’s nothing like turning every day to work you love.”

The American Spirit also includes McCullough’s speeches at a joint session of Congress, an Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, among others.

–University Communications