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University of Missouri

Truman Dreams Come True

An MU alumna lands her dream job at the Truman presidential library.

Mary McMurray

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum captivated Mary McMurray as an intern in 2005. The history graduate was thrilled to take on the leadership of the White House Decision Center at the library in 2012. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

It’s hard to be more excited about a job than Mary McMurray, BS ’02. Becoming a professor is difficult, but there are hundreds of possible colleges to work for. There are only 13 presidential libraries, and McMurray had her heart set on just one of them.

Her ambitions were not always so clear. MU Professor Robert Collins’ American history lectures captivated her, but she took a detour into sales after graduation before realizing her heart was in teaching. In 2005, McMurray enrolled in a master’s program in history at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. That same year, she got an internship at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., where she processed oral histories of those close to Truman.

She was hooked.

She found the subject matter — Truman — and the visitors — Caroline Kennedy, Kofi Annan — fascinating.

“ ‘But I can’t put all my eggs in one basket,’ ” she remembers telling herself. So she finished her master’s degree, then enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Kansas, where she hopes to finish her dissertation next year.

“I thought the whole time, ‘If something ever comes up at the Truman library, that would be perfect,’ ” she says.

In December 2012, something did.

“I could do a backflip about how excited I am to work here,” the new director of The White House Decision Center at the Truman Library says.

The decision center is a unique simulation. Groups of people are cast as Truman and his advisers. Relying on documents from the library’s archives, they must decide one of four scenarios — whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, join the Korean War, desegregate the U.S. military or break the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin.

From students to military officers, McMurray is impressed by the participants’ thoughtful responses. “It’s hard not to get goose bumps,” she says.