Saturday, July 19, 2008

A noble ambition

The annual conference of the National Conference of State Legislatures starts this coming week, this year in the City of New Orleans. Last year in Boston, the famed historian, writer and television host David McCullough was the keynote speaker. I started watching the HBO mini-series John Adams, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by McCullough over the July 4th weekend. I discovered that the DVD includes a documentary special feature about his life as a writer, and includes this excerpt of his speech given at NCSL:
History is not about date and quotes and obscure provisos. History is about life, about change, about consequences, cause and effect.

It's about the mystery of human nature, the mystery of time. And it is not just about politics and the military and social issues, which is almost always the way it's taught.

It's about music and poetry, drama and science, and medicine and money and love.

I love to tell a story, and I love to tell a true story of what really happened to real people who were as alive, as human as we are. Some ways, maybe more so.

I'm often asked if I could be a fly on the wall for some moment, or a scene that I've written about, what would it be?

That's a hard question to answer, there's so many. But one of them surely would be the day that Ralph Waldo Emerson, young Emerson, recently out of Harvard, went out to Quincy, Massachusetts to visit the old President John Adams, then in the last year of his life. The year was 1825.

And Emerson, afterward, wrote down much of what was said. At one point, Adams said, "I would to God there were more ambition in the country." And then he paused and he said, "By that, I mean ambition of the laudable kind - to excel."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could reinstate what we do as parents and grandparents, as teachers, as legislators, that old noble ambition, to excel. Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

History is a set of lies that everyone agrees on.