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Lessons From John McCain's Legacy

Posted on August 28, 2018
Image of John McCain saluting

John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th from an aggressive brain tumor, it felt sudden given the families announcement that he had decided to stop treatment came just the day before. It also felt sudden because he was an incredible American hero. This is not about being a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal, this is about honoring a man who has an incredible legacy of serving this country. Whether in the military, politics, or simply a lay person, there are lessons we all should learn from John McCain.

Character and Integrity

Margie Warrell wrote in Forbes on August 26th, “McCain was one of the bravest, most decent and honorable political leaders of our time. As a Republican Senator for over four decades many disagreed with his politics, but few ever doubted his values or questioned his integrity.”

Perhaps the most iconic moment the country saw McCain’s decency, his honor, and his integrity was when he stood up for then candidate Barack Obama at a rally in 2008 when she explained why she could not "trust Obama." He could have let the woman’s comments pass, but no, he took the microphone and defended his opponent saying, "He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about." It is much easier to let others think poorly of our competitors, it takes strength, character, and integrity to stand up and defend them.

Embracing People with Opposing Views

John McCain spoke about finding his love of America while imprisoned. “It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.” I believe it is his love of country that lead him over and over to reach out to those who have different views. “But we should be mindful as we argue about our difference that so much more unites us than divides us. We should also note that our differences, when compared with those in many, if not most, other countries, are smaller than we sometimes image them to be.”

If we look at his good friends over the years – men and women holding differing political views to the two men who will eulogizing him, he was forever reaching out. We cannot surround ourselves with people just like us, we should take his lead and surround ourselves with people who are different, who hold different views, and find what we share, what we have in common.


John McCain has spent his life serving this country, as a naval officer to a congressman to a Senator. As the son and grandson of four-star admirals, service is in his blood, and he spent his life serving this country. His service began as a naval officer, and he is well-known for opting to remain with his POWs instead of returning home because of his father’s rank. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives for five years, and then became a Senator where he resided for 32 years, and he unsuccessfully ran for President twice. But McCain did not believe service was narrowly defined as military or political. He once said, “Every day, people serve their neighbors and our nation in many different ways, from helping a child learn and easing the loneliness of those without family to defending our freedom overseas. It is in this spirit of dedication to others and to our country that I believe service should be broadly and deeply encouraged.”

Serving in our neighborhoods, helping others in any capacity makes our country stronger. McCain also said, “Civic participation over a lifetime, working in neighborhoods and communities and service of all kinds – military and civilian, full-time and part-time, national and international – will strengthen America’s civic purpose.” Not only do we help others in need when we participate in service, but we also grow as individuals, which strengthens the fabric of our communities and our country.

John McCain was a human being, faulty, and by his own admission – not perfect – but there are many lessons we can learn from his example. Living a life of character and integrity, listening to those with whom we have differences, and serving others are lessons we should all embrace each and every day.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
Image source: CNN - John McCain's Life in Pictures

Source: McCain Defends Barack Obama 

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