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Kathleen Sullivan ’14 (left) and Kathleen McGinty ’16 (right), both Cowl news
editors, pose with David McCullough after their interview.

McCullough’s advice: ‘Pursue liberal arts with your whole heart and soul’

Kathleen McGinty ’16 (Andover, Mass.) and Kathleen Sullivan ’14 (Lincoln, R.I.), news editors for the student newspaper The Cowl, seized the opportunity of a lifetime when they interviewed historian and author David McCullough after his keynote speech at the dedication of the new Ruane Center for the Humanities.

“Was there any advice you would you give to students at Providence College who are currently pursuing a liberal arts education?” McGinty asked McCullough, whose books have been honored with two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, and who has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

“Yes,” said McCullough. “Pursue it with your whole heart and soul because you will never ever regret it.”

McCullough, who was clearly pleased with the question, had additional advice:

• “Put off deciding on your major as long as you can. Think of college as a great buffet dinner. Don’t walk up to the table and fill your whole plate with the first thing you see. And when you do choose the courses you take, take the professor, not the course. Find out who the really strong, interesting, stimulating, inspiring teachers are and take those courses, even if it’s something you don’t think you’re interested in.”

• “(Study the liberal arts) even if you want to be a scientist, even if you want to be a doctor. Johns Hopkins is encouraging people who go to medical school not to take a lot of medicine or chemistry as undergraduates. They’d much rather have you come in (having studied) the humanities. There’s a huge issue in medicine, which is a very old issue … are you treating a disease or are you treating a human being? And the answer is of course you are treating both. But you can’t ignore the human being who is lying there.  You have to understand that human being.”

• “When you take these courses, try to ‘read up.’ Read books that you think are a little more difficult or a little more intellectual than you would normally take. Don’t just take the easy kind of book that you’d carry on an airplane.”

• “I was an English major. I think English is the best major of all because it’s about life. How many times in your life are you going to get to really learn about Dickens or Shakespeare or Cervantes or the classics? And remember, the classics are classics for a very good reason. They’ve stood the test of time. If they’ve stood the test of time there’s something of value. And it will help you with your own writing.”

“If you could graduate from Providence College knowing how to express yourself on paper and on your feet, you will be way ahead of almost all your contemporaries,” McCullough told the students.

McGinty found the advice “inspiring.”

“As an accounting major, part of the reason I chose to come to Providence College was because I would be able to pursue a business degree while also receiving a liberal arts education,” McGinty said. “His advice suggested that the liberal arts education I am receiving here will ultimately make me a more well-rounded business person if I can, as he said, learn how to both express myself in writing and on my feet.”

 

— Vicki-Ann Downing

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