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David McCullough

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

When I arrived in New York, I needed a job, and I was fortunate enough to be taken on as a trainee in a brand new magazine that was just starting called Sports Illustrated. And I think now, in retrospect, that what I did in the next 12 years was to serve a kind of apprenticeship in different jobs, different magazine jobs, primarily editing, writing. And after I'd done that for about 10 or 12 years, I felt that I had reached the point where I could attempt something on my own.
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David McCullough

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

I had no anticipation that I was going to write history, but I stumbled upon a story that I thought was powerful, exciting, and very worth telling. And I taught myself, in effect, how to do the research, how to dig out the pieces, both large and small, of the past. I discovered in the process that -- contrary to the notion that the past is a dead thing -- that in fact, wherever you scratch the surface, you find life. And it was the life -- the people and what happened to them -- that was the pull for me.
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David McCullough

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

I set out to try to understand how the Brooklyn Bridge was built -- the engineering, yes, but also the human story, which is very complicated, and dramatic, and moving, and I had to teach myself the engineering involved. I found the material, the treasure house of letters and diaries stowed away in an attic. That's supposed to be a mythic experience. That happened to me. I found all of those letters and diaries of the Roebling family, which -- they were responsible for the bridge, the design and the building of the bridge -- in a closet up in the attic of a library in Upstate New York, at Troy, New York, at the RPI, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the material was untouched. It hadn't been catalogued, it hadn't been sorted out, hundreds and thousands of items stuffed away in a big storage closet, and I had to unscramble it all. It was like the ultimate tangled fishing line that I had to slowly put back the way it was meant to be, and then I had to try and understand it, and it took the better part of several years just figuring that out. Now if I had gone to a lecture, or if I had been given a textbook, I could have absorbed what was in the lecture, I could have absorbed what was in the textbook, and I could have had it in my head long enough to take the test to pass the course. But probably six months, maybe a year, certainly six years later it would be gone out of my head. But it's now been almost 25 years since I did the work on that project, and I could sit down and take a test on all of that and do very well right now because I had to do it myself.
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Audra McDonald

Six Tony Awards

So I went back to the book, which has a little more detail about Bess, and then I studied women of that era. I studied African American women of that era. I studied cocaine usage. I studied the effect it has on the body. I studied opportunities that would have been available to women of that time if you didn't have a job or a husband, and you were addicted to drugs. You don't have many choices nowadays, but certainly not then. And all that helped me just to understand her a little better. I also wanted to get down to the core of her, which for me was she's an addict. Once I understood this is someone who is an addict, I was able to understand her choices a little better. She goes from being addicted to Crown to being addicted to Porgy, and then gets sucked in by Crown again, and then once Porgy and Crown are both gone, she gets addicted to some sort of comfort again, which is the cocaine. But that addictive personality helped me make more sense of who Bess was. That's something that probably hadn't really occurred to me before. Everybody else used to say, "Oh, what. She just loves life. She's a fast woman, that's all. She's just a fast woman who loves life." Well, that's not true. That's surely what she projects, but that's not what's going on underneath. And that's what I wanted to get to, what's going on underneath.
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Audra McDonald

Six Tony Awards

Winning a Tony completely surpassed my dreams. I just wanted to be on Broadway. That's all I wanted. So winning one Tony, I thought I was done. So what's happened is just hard for me to fathom. So I don't think about it all that much. So to answer your question, no. It doesn't change my life all that much, because I'm still me. I'm still an artist who's searching, trying to evolve, an artist who -- nine times out of ten -- is dissatisfied with her work, and beats herself, and goes out there and tries again and again, and falls on her face and looks for new challenges. I think the Tony says, "Okay. Great job. Keep going." But it doesn't bring money. Maybe Oscars do, but Tonys do not. Theater doesn't bring money in general. That's not why you do it. If you go into theater for money then you've really gone into the wrong business. What's the joke? "I want to tell you how to make a million dollars. Invest $10 million in a show! That's how you make it." I never felt any different on the inside. So I guess no, it didn't change my life, but outwardly it did. Does that make sense? I don't know.
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Audra McDonald

Six Tony Awards

It was at the time that they were trying to stop forced busing with schools in Fresno, so they started to develop all of these magnet schools around Fresno. So instead of being forced to another part of town just to diversify the schools, you went to the school according to what you were interested in. That was happening right as I was going into high school. So Computech, which was a computer school, popped up. There was a poli-sci school that popped up. These were all high school. And a performing arts school popped up. Many of the teachers that populated -- my freshman year was the first year that school opened -- many of the teachers that populated that school were people who had worked at Good Company Players. In fact, one of the ladies that became the principal of that school was a great lady named Clytee Ramsey, who had starred in many shows at Good Company Players. She was Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Mame in Mame. So I ended up going to a performing arts high school as well as still doing shows at Good Company Players. So by the time it was time for me to audition for Juilliard, I had spent my whole life basically on the stage, in my high school productions and in my dinner theater productions. We had a TV show, a weekly TV show for the junior company. So auditioning wasn't scary to me. It's something that I'd grown up doing. And a girl in the year -- in the class before me -- had gone and auditioned for Juilliard for the dance department. And then another girl in our dinner theater had gone and auditioned for the vocal department. I knew I wanted to move to New York. I knew I wanted to be on Broadway. I knew that very shortly after I started working at Good Company Players. I knew that's what I wanted to do.
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Audra McDonald

Six Tony Awards

A lot of students would go in, and they knew who they wanted as a teacher, and they went to Juilliard to study with them. But I had no idea, and so she picked me. She was a fascinating teacher, because she had -- in the same way that Dan Pessano -- she had a lot to have to mold, because I was just so raw. I didn't know anything about classical music, and I was still wanting to be on Broadway, but here I was studying classical music. So she kind of had to keep keeping my head in the game, and trying to keep me focused on classical music, and trying to keep me convinced that regardless of what I ended up doing with it, it was the right thing to pursue for now, just to get the technique. Whereas maybe other teachers at the school got a little frustrated with me, she understood that I was young and a bit wild, but that there was talent there. So she was a great supporter of mine at a time when I think maybe some of the other teachers might have just given up on me. She didn't.
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William McRaven

The Art of Warfare

William McRaven: Educated risks and we had, again, done the planning. I knew where all the risks were, and we had planned around those risks to mitigate the risks. So understanding that we wanted to fly in undetected, we knew what the Pakistanis had in the way of defenses. We understood what the compound looked like in Abbottabad. So we knew all of that information. We had very good intelligence that, again, the CIA and NSA provided us. And so with that good intelligence you were able to figure out where the difficulties in the mission were going to lie, and then take the opportunity to, again, buy down that risk to the point where, when I had the opportunity to brief the President, I was very confident that we could do the mission the way we had outlined it.
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William McRaven

The Art of Warfare

William McRaven: The one thing they teach you in the military is really the value of small things. As I mentioned in the commencement speech, I use the bed as an analogy, but it was a little bit of everything. So every morning you had a uniform inspection, and the military uniform that we wore, you had a brass buckle and you had to polish that brass buckle until the point where there were no smudges, that there were no corrosion, that the brass buckle was perfect. And you would spend hours every night polishing that brass buckle, and then, immediately after the inspection, they would have you go jump in the surf zone and now your buckle would be corroded. But the point they were trying to teach you, much like the bed, is the little details matter. Because the brass buckle and the bed later equated to your weapons system. So when we would go out on operations, your weapon -- and in the case when I first started, we carried an M-16 -- and you would go out and you would be on an operation all night long. You would come back at about 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. And you are really tired, again, you are cold, wet, and you are tired and all you want to do is take a shower and get in bed. But what's important is you have to stop and clean your weapon first. And you just can't do a cursory cleaning of it, particularly not if it's been in the salt water. You've got to do a very thorough cleaning. And if you don't do that, and then the next morning you go out on another operation, now your weapon is corroded and it might not work when you get in combat. So the point is, the little things matter. And that really does transcend into planning, for example. A lot of people ask me about special operations, and there is this belief that it is the bravado and kind of the cavalier approach. What I learned very early on is that's not what makes our operation special. What makes our operation special is the level of detailed planning and rehearsals that we do, so that the hard things become simple when you're in a combat situation. You learn that in every military organization from the very beginning, whether it's how you spit shine your shoes, how you polish your brass buckle, or how you make your bed. The details matter.
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