Living in upper-middle class Washington, D.C. and New York, David Brooks sees successful career women take time off to make sure their kids get into Harvard. They pick their children up from school in luxury cars and feed them seaweed-based snacks in hopes that their offspring become high achievers.
Young people today tend to live a life of “moral mediocrity,” unattached to a higher purpose, Brooks said. They want fame and financial security, primarily concerned with maintaining high self-esteem.
“It’s a life that prevails in a lot of American colleges and universities — just get ahead,” he said. “But in moments of grace, you want to be worthy of that grace.”
Students, faculty and donors from the community filled the Carl Perkins Civic Center to hear The New York Times columnist and author Tuesday night at Union University’s 18th annual Scholarship Banquet.
At age 7, Brooks picked up a book called “Paddington the Bear” and right then decided he wanted to become a writer. Since, he has worked for publications such as The Weekly Standard, Newsweek, Atlantic Monthly and The Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a regular analyst on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s All Things Considered.
Originally from Greenwich Village, New York, Brooks is a self-proclaimed conservative writing for a largely liberal audience. His most recent book, “The Road to Character,” focuses on how selflessness can lead to success.
In the book, Brooks contrasts two ideas: résumé virtues — skills students bring into the marketplace, and eulogy virtues — the things people say about them after they die. Most colleges focus on résumé virtues, but institutions like Union are not afraid to teach both sides, he said.
“Students at Christian colleges are aware of the state of their soul every day — it’s in the lunchroom, and it’s in the classroom,” he said.
There is more to life than personal achievement, he said. Universities can ensure that students not only have successful careers, but they also radiate an inner light.
Brooks’ time at the University of Chicago taught him to cultivate commitments to spouse and family, faith and creed, community and vocation.
“The university can open up opportunities and provide a chance for students to fall in love with those things, and some of those loves will be lifelong,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his favorite part about visiting institutions of higher education is meeting with the students. About a dozen student leaders met with him on campus Tuesday afternoon and heard advice about what life might look like after graduation, how to stay true to their moral compasses and how the opinions of others should not influence their work.
“I like getting a sense of what students are curious about and what they’re going through,” he said. A highlight of teaching courses at Yale University for Brooks is hearing his own students’ stories.
Union’s Scholarship Banquet serves as a primary fundraising event for its student scholarship funding. Previous speakers include Tony Blair, George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Winston Churchill, Colin Powell, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson.
One hundred percent of the student body receives financial aid of some sort, according to Bob Agee, vice president for institutional advancement. Students expressed their appreciation for those monetary gifts in video segments throughout the evening.
“Union University provides Christ-centered education,” President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said. “We want to be the very best — not for our own glory, but to reflect the light of Christ and to bring praise to our father in heaven.”