I was in a green room this past weekend when a journalist asked me, "Should we be sad today?" I responded, "No, of course not. Ronald Reagan said goodbye to us in 1994 in his farewell letter. Today is a day to pause for a moment, remember him, and then rejoice in his memory and legacyto celebrate his life." I thought a bit more on that answer since; I still believe that's true. With every farewell Ronald Reagan made, he spoke of a brighter day, a new dawn. For Reagan, it was always Morning in America.
This was true in his 1976 primary concession to his staff, where he said he still believed in that "shining city," where he spoke of taking the fight to another day. This was true when he delivered his White House farewell in 1989, and it was true when he wrote out his farewell to the American people in 1994, concluding: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
In thinking over just what it was that made Ronald Reagan so unique, it is hard to improve on what so many have said. But, one thing that has not been spoken about Ronald Reagan was his uniquely American life of ironyboth personal and political. This 69-year-old man was elected to the presidency when Americans felt that their country had, perhaps, seen its best days. Reagan changed that. This, the oldest man elected to the presidency, made Americaand Americansfeel young again; he rejuvenated all of us. He was a Protestant who received a great many votes from Catholics; a Christian who received unprecedented votes from Jews. He was a Hollywood movie star who was comfortable with Middle America, and who Middle America felt was one of their own. He was elected governor of California in the protest, left-wing culture of that state in the mid-'60's. And, he was a conservative Republican who peeled away unprecedented Democratic voters from their party of Roosevelt.
As President Reagan's secretary of Education, I would like to close with the following words from his presidential farewell in 1989. It was there, in that farewell, that he cautioned all of us to learn more about our country, so that we could better love it:
[W]e've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's importantwhy the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, 'we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.' Well, let's help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.
And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
Thank you, Ronald Reagan. And may God Bless you and your family.