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Abraham Lincoln’s storytelling skill would have served him well on today’s talk shows, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told Longwood University graduates Saturday (May 9).
"I have told Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert when I have been on their shows that if Lincoln were alive today, he could absolutely match them one-on-one," said Goodwin, whose bestselling book Team of Rivals became the basis for the 2012 film Lincoln.
"Lincoln had a gift for storytelling and a life-affirming sense of humor," said Goodwin, who received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the ceremony. She became acquainted with Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV when both worked with the National War Powers Commission.
Longwood awarded 911 bachelor’s degrees in the May 9 undergraduate ceremony and 166 master’s degrees the previous evening. (These numbers include graduates who completed their studies in August and December of 2014.)
Goodwin, the author of several best-selling books about presidents, said some may find it odd that she spends her "days and nights with dead presidents" but added, "I wouldn’t have it any other way."
No president’s story is more "compelling" than Lincoln’s, she said.
"The hardest part of his self-education, he later said, was that he had few people with whom to discuss his ideas, to mentor him, to guide him. By contrast, I realize how fortunate I have been to have dozens of truly terrific teachers in both high school and college who left a permanent mark on me, who guided me, mentored me, advised me. One of my high-school teachers brought FDR so vitally to life that when she talked about his death, she began to cry, and so did we."
Goodwin, noting that many of the graduates will become teachers, told them, "As you open up the world of learning to others, you will be like Lincoln, continually learning yourselves. What Lincoln would have given to have spent four years on this beautiful campus. All his life he regretted the want of a formal education, but he never stopped learning even after becoming a lawyer."
Goodwin, who has been called "America’s historian in chief," said that she learned the art of storytelling as a 6-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father asked her to tell him about that afternoon’s Brooklyn Dodgers’ game, which she listened to on the radio, when he returned home from work.
"In excruciating detail, I recounted every single detail of every play of every inning. I learned the narrative art from those games. I learned that it was important not to blurt out the score, but that every game has a beginning, a middle and an end."
In the undergraduate ceremony, Kelsey O’Brien McDonald, a business administration major (finance concentration) from Kennett Square, Pa., received the Sally Barksdale Hargrett Prize for Academic Excellence, which is awarded to the graduating senior with the highest grade-point average. McDonald, a member of the Cormier Honors College who graduated with a 3.993 GPA, will work as a data analyst for Preferred Sands in Radnor, Pa. A four-year starter on the women’s soccer team and member of this year’s All-Big South second team, her numerous academic accolades include being selected a member of the Capital One Academic All-America third team in November 2014 and being a two-year member of the Big South All-Academic Team.
Deirdre Frances Bates, a theatre education major from Farmville, received the Dan Daniel Senior Award for Scholarship and Citizenship. A member of the Cormier Honors College and Phi Kappa Phi national honor society who plans to teach secondary English, she graduated with a 3.86 GPA. She is a nontraditional student with five children, including a son, Ashton, who will transfer to Longwood this fall.
Dr. Virginia Beard, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminal justice area coordinator, received the Student-Faculty Recognition Award, which honors a faculty member for professional excellence and devoted service to students. She joined the faculty in 2010 and is adviser to Longwood’s chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society.
In the graduate commencement ceremony, Dr. Audrey Church, professor and coordinator of the graduate school librarianship program, received the Faculty Research Award. Dr. Peggy Agee ’75, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, received the Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award.
Also in the graduate commencement, Shay Marie Hunter, of Manassas, (M.S. in sociology) received the Lancer Graduate Student Award; Chelsea Danielle Carroll, of Lanexa, (M.S. in education/counselor education concentration) the Graduate Leadership Award, for the second consecutive year; and Colleen Joanne Schmidt Hall, MBA ’14, of Yorktown, director of marketing for Intelligent Decision Systems Inc., the Graduate Alumni Award.
Dr. Ken Perkins, provost and vice president for academic affairs, urged the graduate students to be magnanimous. "I like to think of magnanimity as encompassing the habits of being graceful in words and deeds, with calmness and kindness in demeanor, and having a forgiving nature. You want others to think of you as having a big soul."