Bryce McCullough’s love for politics started in second grade after participating in his first election.
“During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, my class had its own election where students voted for either Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck,” McCullough recalls with a laugh. “I was all about it!”
The senior PPE major and rhetoric minor from Greensburg, Indiana, said early on he thought the system of politics itself was just “fun and games” until fifth grade when he started to understand what it’s really about.
“I was a part of a student council that was made up of representatives from each class. At that point, I started actually doing things,” explained McCullough. “I helped create a reading program for kids who needed to improve their reading levels. I thought it was really cool to come up with ideas to help people.”
When he was 10 years old, McCullough participated in his first campaign when his father ran for sheriff. He attended events, joined his family in meetings with Decatur County voters, and got to witness first-hand all that goes into the election process.
By high school, he served as president of the student council and national honor society and was an avid political news consumer — often turning on C-SPAN to keep up with Congress — while also studying Electoral College maps for fun in order to predict the chances of a candidate winning swing states.
McCullough saw opportunities at Wabash to further pursue his passion for politics and got involved early in Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse (WDPD).
WDPD is designed for students interested in leadership, community engagement, and free speech. The goal of the program is to strengthening skills in public communication, facilitative and strategic leadership, critical thinking, and public outreach.
“I had become frustrated with the argumentative culture. Everyone’s always at odds with each other, and it seems like we can’t respect each other if we have a difference of opinion. I thought there has got to be a good, productive way to deal with this. I saw WDPD as a solution,” explained McCullough, who is a member of the first cohort of WDPD direct admits.
Sara Drury, associate professor of rhetoric and WDPD director, remembers being impressed by the enthusiasm and optimism that McCullough showed while taking her Deliberation and Democracy course in the spring of 2020 during which the in-person campus shut down due to COVID-19.
“Bryce remained so positive and engaged,” Drury said. “He wasn’t going to stick his head in the sand and ignore things. He advocated and encouraged his peers to be real about the challenges and to figure out how to work together to find solutions. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is a remarkable attitude for a freshman college student to have.’”
Drury said there have been many moments throughout the last four years where McCullough has displayed leadership that has made her proud, but his commitment to fostering environments for people with different perspectives to come together stands out.
In 2021, following the divisive election and Capitol Riots on January 6, McCullough worked with other students in WDPD to organize an event that sought to encourage civility and build unity. It involved a short documentary screening of “PURPLE: America, We Need to Talk,” and a two-part, interactive discussion about how we can learn and grow from our differences and come together across divides.
Around 80 people – a mix of students, faculty and staff, alumni, and Crawfordsville community members — participated in the virtual event facilitated by McCullough.
“One of the hardest parts nowadays is that you have to be labeled by something – either you’re a Republican or Democrat or you’re on this side of this side. It's hard to be able to just say, ‘No. I'm an American, and it’s OK that we may have different beliefs,” McCullough said during the event in 2021. “That’s what this should all be about – being able to put things aside civilly and say, ‘OK, let’s have this hard conversation, person to person.’”
After that virtual event, McCullough and students in WDPD created an in-person event in fall 2021 continuing the themes of coming together across divides.
“He wanted to make the conversations a place where people felt comfortable sharing different opinions and stories while talking about politics,” Drury explained. “The respect he showed for everybody who would be in attendance demonstrated his leadership in working across political divides. He consistently contributes to WDPD events in ways that let everybody feel like their voices are heard.”
The lessons McCullough’s learned through WDPD have been displayed in the classroom, his professional life, and in extracurricular activities, including serving as student body president.
McCullough worked as an intern for the Nate Harter for Attorney General campaign and the city of Greensburg in 2020; for the office of U.S. Senator Todd Young and Decatur County prosecutor’s office in 2021; and as a summer scholar intern for the Liberty Fund in 2022. He also served the Greensburg community in 2020 as the 5th precinct committee chairman and the 7th Republican Convention delegate in the primary election.
Interning for his hometown was one of McCullough’s favorite work experiences.
“We had a mayor’s club in high school. It didn't seem as productive as it could be. I said, ‘OK, let’s make the structure a little bit clearer and the responsibilities more apparent,’” McCullough said. “As an intern, I wrote a city resolution to create the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council. It was voted on, passed through the city, and is now a recognized entity.
“Getting the resolution passed was cool, but what has been more exciting for me is seeing the projects that the interns got to do after me,” he explained. “The first class, for example, decided to bring an outdoor fitness park to one of our parks in Greensburg. Getting to be a part of the growth of my hometown and seeing that impact is was amazing.”
Scott Himsel, associate professor of political science, said the way McCullough presents himself and communicates his ideas while also listening to others’ sets a great example for other students.
“Bryce is one of the most open-minded partisans I’ve ever met,” said Himsel. “He is true to his beliefs as a Republican, but at the same time, he is willing to consider seriously the evidence of other points of view.
“We have lots of students who come here and express an interest in going into politics after graduation, but I think Bryce will actually do it,” Himsel continued. “I think he’ll do it and be the kind of leader that we so desperately need today, one that brings people together.”
Upon graduation, McCullough will be attending Indiana University Maurer School of Law as a Wabash Law Scholar. The Wabash Law Scholars Program, offered to nominated Wabash College graduates admitted to the Maurer School of Law, awards students about 50% of annual tuition, along with access to a formal mentoring program.
With varying interests in law — ranging from prosecution to government services law — McCullough hopes furthering his education will help him discover which career path to pursue in the future.
“I can’t wait to continue my journey at one of the nation’s oldest, most prestigious, and collegial law schools,” McCullough said.