Wedged in between cameramen from CNN, NBC, the AP and others, I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear. I landed the reporting assignment because the New River flows north into West Virginia, and my newspaper was publishing a story about it. It was great that it was happening in my old stomping grounds, West Jefferson.
The farm land that was chosen for the dedication stretched along the winding river. It was completely full of school groups, families, young people, elders ... people of all ages. They arrived early, and truly there was not another place to stand. They were all there to get a glimpse of President Clinton. Secret Service agents were dispersed throughout the tremendous crowd.
Students wrote essays. Children drew pictures. It was the biggest event in that area that I can remember, and “old-timers” swore they had never seen anything like it.
Not one protest sign was erected nor were parents keeping their children away from the event. No one claimed that the speech was written to influence these children in the crowd, or change them in some way other than into being environmentally-friendly citizens.
The fact that President Barack Obama would send a message to school children on Tuesday alarmed many. Protests erupted. Parents pulled their children from school and school systems decided that children would not be allowed to watch the telecast. Some, due to policy, would only run the speech after reviewing it, although a complete copy of the speech was released on Monday
Something is wrong with this picture. I reviewed the speech with a critical eye on Monday, looking for some statement that I wouldn’t want a young student to hear. Would it be appropriate to share the message, if the messenger had been John McCain? Of course, it would.
President Obama admitted to not staying on task at times when he was young, and not understanding how important some lessons were. He shared with students in a way they could relate, a message that encouraged them to do better, work harder and be responsible for their actions. He reminded them to complete their homework and to not spend every waking hour in front of a television.
He asked students to pay attention to their teachers, listen to their parents, grandparents and other adults. He urged them to put in the hard work it takes to succeed. He talked about heroes who had failed in the past, but worked to overcome those failures.
President Obama challenged students to work toward their goals. He reminded them they could not be lawyers, doctors, educators, or any of the other jobs they aspire to do without dedication.
Don’t step in the way of a young child, watching his president, and thinking that the words are directed specifically to him. It was wrong when House Democrats criticized 41st President George Bush for talking with students about studying hard, avoiding drugs and turning in troublemakers. And it is wrong today. The president has earned the respect of our children. The message shared on Tuesday was a great opportunity for us to talk to our children about their future, while not quashing the enthusiasm brought on by a speech by the president.