While I had visited several times when I taught 5th grade, my first trip there “sans students” was just three weeks ago. My brother, Ray and his wife, Meghan were in town and when she suggested this outing, I was thrilled!
Located about 14 miles northeast of our home in Newbury Park, it took us about 20 minutes to get there. That Friday morning traffic on the 101 S, then 23 N, was light. Following the winding road up, guided by faces of presidents fluttering on flags poles, we parked at the summit, and entered right on time for our 11:00 self-guided tour.
With just a few people ahead of us, I couldn’t wait to see the 24 galleries of historic artifacts, short films, and interactive displays, instead of just the top of my students’ heads while corralling them into a designated room so they could testify before a panel of community leaders who’d act as judges, for the annual We The People event. These simulated hearings gave students a chance to demonstrate their knowledge of the Constitution that we had intensely studied for six weeks prior. (Phew!)
From my journal: May 15, 2005, Newbury Park, California
“Going to the Reagan next week for the We The People event…my first time, feeling as excited and nervous as the kids!”
Our exploration this time began in the Caruso Family Theater where we watched a five-minute video featuring a hologram of Ronald Reagan making a speech with promises he’d fulfill as Commander in Chief. Our tour ended with excerpts of Reagan’s post-presidency life and his death in 2004.
So much information was packed into the well planned and thought-out exhibits highlighting Reagan’s early years, his governorship in the 1960s, his two terms as president in the 1980s, and all the challenges faced, and goals achieved, in that era.
I was amazed at all I remembered, but also by all that I learned. One thing that struck me was that Meghan, Ray and I were first-time voters during Reagan’s first run for the oval office. We were just kids then and just thinking about it, it really hit home at what a privilege it is to be able cast a vote and have a say in who we’d like to run our country!
Among the things I recalled were President Reagan being sworn into office as the oldest president elected at that time, the assassination attempt on his life, the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign spearheaded by Nancy Reagan, the AIDS crisis, and President Reagan’s fondness for jelly beans.
What I learned was that President Reagan earned the moniker the “Great Communicator” as he was a powerful speaker. While I remember seeing him on TV delivering speeches, it’s only now that I can fully appreciate how skilled he was at it. I learned that he kept personal diaries and wrote in them just about every day as president. I also learned that he kept his word to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court, doing so, when Sandra Day O’Connor was sworn in during his first term.
Listening to the docents and observing the materials on display, I got the sense in his personal life, President Reagan was a man of faith. He was dedicated to his wife Nancy, loved his family, and loved his country. In the professional arena, it came across that he was pragmatic when it came to working with heads of state. To see the bronze sculpture of him and Mikhail Gorbachev sitting down facing one another in a friendly manner, really captured their relationship, as the Cold War did end peacefully. Seeing these exhibits, I walked away with a better understanding of what it takes to become a president, and to actually be one.
After viewing the Reagan portion of the museum, we had a chance to climb aboard Air Force One and Marine One. Both seemed so small inside! We also toured the latest exhibition on the FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda, which was remarkable! I learned how and why the FBI was created, what it takes to be an FBI agent, as well as stories on major FBI cases from the 1920s through modern day. Truly a well-spent, engaging, and educational afternoon. (My favorite kind!)
After this recent visit, I’d now like to tour other presidential libraries. Since Herbert Hoover was in office, every president has had a library established in his home state. Each offers archives and a museum filled with documents, artifacts, and films relating to the president’s personal and professional life, without regard for political affiliations. Visiting a presidential library really is a great way to explore our nation’s history, and to learn more about the leaders who helped shape it. Happy President’s Day!