News Release

Finding Character in the American Presidency

Richard Norton Smith, historian, biographer, and nationally recognized authority on the American presidency presented a lecture on Monday, October 13, titled “Does Character Count?” 

Graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1975 with a degree in government, Smith enjoyed a front row seat to the job of president of the United States. His past experiences include working as a White House intern, writing speeches for both senators and presidents, and serving as director of several historical museums including the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library.

During his speech, Smith challenged his audience to ponder if history has anything to do with the decision we will all make on Election Day. He asked his audience, “What makes a president a man of character?”

First, Smith suggested that every good president combines principle with pragmatism. Doing what is practical and good for the country does not always follow personal convictions, but it is part of what constitutes a great president.

He also suggested that a good president is a risk taker. Some of our greatest leaders were not afraid to take risks, and though we may agree or disagree with their leadership, those risky decisions shaped the history of our country.  

Smith said humility is another key to greatness, giving the example of Gerald Ford who when faced with a tough decision “didn’t take a poll; he said a prayer.”  It is through humility that a president can see his fellow man with a proper perspective.

 “Being president requires not only a back bone, but also a funny bone,” said Smith, explaining that humor was the next character trait necessary for success.

Finally, every president should display confidence.  “To inspire confidence in others, you must have confidence in yourself,” he said. A good president is tested by the trials of life and comes through still standing.  

Throughout the evening, Smith used humorous stories to humanize our past leaders. The night ended with a question and answer time.

The next WorldView event will feature Mary Fisher, the special representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and founder of the Mary Fisher Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) fund. The program will begin at 7 p.m. in the Ozinga Chapel.


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