Getting to know David Gergen

Gergen story image

David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN, and a Professor of Public Service and Director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, will speak at the JUF Medical Professionals & Educators Divisions dinner on Monday, May 19.

Gergen served as an advisor to four U.S. presidents of both parties: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He wrote about his experiences in his New York Times bestseller, "Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership. Nixon to Clinton." He has been active on numerous non-profit boards, including the boards of Yale and Duke Universities. Among his current boards are Teach for America, City Year, Schwab Foundation, the Aspen Institute and the advisory board for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also chairs the advisory board for the new School of Law at Elon University and co-chairs the advisory board for Duke Engage.

A native of North Carolina, Gergen is a member of the D.C. Bar, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the U.S. executive committee for the Trilateral Commission.

He is an honors graduate of Yale and the Harvard Law School. He has been awarded 24 honorary degrees.

He is currently at work on a new book about renewing America's political culture.

In a 2009 interview, Stefanie Bregman, a staff writer for JUF News, spoke to Gergen. Here's an excerpt from their discussion. 

JUF News: Of all you've accomplished as a political and presidential advisor, educator, journalist, author and public servant, what have you found
most rewarding?

David Gergen: It's an enormous privilege for any citizen to serve a president in the White House and so I've been wonderfully blessed in life by serving under four different presidents. But some of my most rewarding moments go back to an earlier time in my life, back into the 1960s. I grew up in North Carolina and I became a college intern with Governor Terry Sanford, a very progressive, Kennedy-like figure in North Carolina and they assigned me to work with David Coltrane, a fellow who had been a long time segregationist and had changed his views and become very strong pro-civil rights. I worked for him for three summers traveling the state trying to keep racial peace but also trying to promote integration and jobs and educational opportunities for African Americans. I look back upon that time as one of the most satisfying in my public life.

How does your experience as a public servant play into your role as a journalist?

There used to be a barrier between public service and journalism or working in government and journalism and that barrier has come down. I don't consider myself a journalist so much as I am a commentator. I do have biases and I'm not there to just report the news-I'm trying to interpret and understand the flow of events.

What drew you to politics-did you always know you wanted to work in public service?

I was drawn early on to be at the scene as a participant of the big events of my generation-I've always wanted to have a ringside seat and possibly be on the field for the big things that were going shape our generation. Wanting to be there, wanting to make a difference if I could, wanting to be a voice, trying to help shape how things turn out. I've been very fortunate in life and people have been enormously kind to me along the way. 

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