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David Brooks Explores a ‘Road to Character’ at 11th Westmont President’s Breakfast

Political journalist challenges community, campus audiences to rebalance scales between ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues’

Journalist David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, describes why selflessness, humility and service to others leads to greater personal success. “We all have these moments where you illuminate a higher joy, higher than anything you get at the workplace, and with that comes a summons,” he says. “You’d like to feel worthy of such moments.” Click to view larger
Journalist David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, describes why selflessness, humility and service to others leads to greater personal success. “We all have these moments where you illuminate a higher joy, higher than anything you get at the workplace, and with that comes a summons,” he says. “You’d like to feel worthy of such moments.” (Brad Elliott /

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Outlining the differences between what he called “résumé virtues and eulogy virtues,” journalist and author David Brooks kept his sold-out audience spellbound at the annual Westmont President’s Breakfast.

Brooks, a New York Times political columnist and Yale University professor, is the author of the best-selling book, The Road to Character, which tells the story of 10 great historical figures and how they built rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.

In his remarks, he used his book as the jumping-off point to explore the journey to a deeper, more meaningful life, explaining why selflessness, humility and service to others leads to greater personal success.

“We all have these moments where you illuminate a higher joy, higher than anything you get at the workplace, and with that comes a summons,” he said. “You’d like to feel worthy of such moments.”

Gayle Beebe, president of Westmont College, introduced Brooks to the more than 700 guests gathered for the 11th annual breakfast, held March 4 at The Fess Parker.

“David always brings a warm, winsome spirit, a very unique angle, and a capacity to talk across multiple disciplines,” he said. “I have been particularly struck by his willingness to share openly about his own pursuit of truth and his efforts to find meaning in life.

The Road to Character makes such a striking challenge for the difference we can make if we focus on the ‘eulogy virtues’ rather than the ‘résumé virtues.’”

One of America’s most prominent political commentators, Brooks writes a biweekly column for The New York Times, where he jokes that, in his position as one of the venerable newspaper’s lone conservatives, it’s “a little like being the chief Jewish rabbi in Mecca.”

Brooks regularly appears on PBS NewsHour and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. His previous books include The Social Animal, On Paradise Drive and Bobos in Paradise. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for nine years and has written for The New Yorker, Forbes, the Washington Post, The Weekly Standard and many other publications.

A graduate of the University of Chicago, he has taught at Duke University and teaches a global affairs course on humility at Yale.

Brooks has developed a growing bond with Westmont, and was the 2015 commencement speaker at the private Christian liberal arts college in the Montecito foothills.

After the breakfast, he returned to the campus, where he participated in a panel discussion led by students Bunty Drewitt, Kirk Fetters, Alejandro Santa-Vallarta and Courtney Schwass, and moderated by communications studies professor Greg Spencer.

Much of the Q&A was spent discussing college, and how students should be preparing themselves mentally and spiritually for when they leave.

“We’re in the culture of the Big Me,” Brooks told the convocation audience of students, faculty and staff packed into Murchison Gymnasium.

He noted that college students are often advised — wrongly, in his opinion — that the answers to life are all found within themselves, citing statements like “finding one’s passions.”

Instead, he encouraged students to find their answers out in the world, not from within. Search out a problem, then address it.

“The first year out of college is the most important year of your life,” Brooks said.

He advised the students to broaden their risk horizons by going outside their comfort zones for their first jobs.

If a recent college graduate doesn’t take risks in his or her first year, it will become increasingly difficult to do so.

“I say to college students, the most important decision you will make is whom to marry,” Brooks said.

At one point during the Q&A, Brooks was asked how college students should view the candidates in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

In response, he joked that he could think of one candidate who exemplified great moral virtue. Turning serious, however, he added that in the current political climate, ego, callousness and ruthlessness are rewarded. As a result, he said, decent people often are forced to act in ways that are contrary to their own beliefs.

The Westmont College Foundation and local businesses sponsor the Westmont President’s Breakfast to promote discussion of significant issues in the community. The breakfast also serves as a fundraiser for student scholarships.

This year’s lead sponsor was Union Bank. Gold sponsors were Axia Holdings, Chronicle Family Offices, Davies, Anna and David Grotenhuis, Hub International, La Arcada, Jo and Carl Lindros, Lindsay and Laurie Parton, Matt Construction, Santa Barbara Capital, Sharol and Wayne Siemens and V3 Corp.

Past Westmont President’s Breakfast speakers have been some of the most prominent world leaders and commentators. The list: presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin; microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus; retired Gen. Colin Powell; former Defense Secretary Robert Gates; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Mexican President Vicente FoxWalter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and former chairman and CEO of CNN; journalist and author Fareed Zakaria; Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat and Crowded and The World is Flat; and historian and best-selling author David McCullough.

Meanwhile, the Mosher Foundation’s series on Moral and Ethical Leadership in American Society continues for Westmont.

Ronald C. White, author of several best-selling books, including A. Lincoln: A Biography, speaks about “The Long Arc of Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Vision: The American Presidency to the Modern Day” on June 1 at the Lead Where You Stand Conference at Westmont, 955 La Paz Road.

Meg Jay speaks about “Why 30 Is Not the New 20: Understanding the Mindset of Millennials” at the June 2 conference.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at [email protected]. This article includes reportinf Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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