My name is Courtney and I am a rising sophomore at the University of Tennessee, majoring in Public Administration and Political Science. I am passionate about politics and I love to express my conservative views when given the opportunity. In 2004, I was selected as a U.S. Congressional Page. Written below is my story about how Ronald Reagan changed my life by sparking my interest in politics and public service.
In the summer of 2004, the summer before my junior year in high school, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to start my new job as a United States Congressional Page. This meant that I would be running errands for members of Congress. When I arrived, I was politically aware, however, I did not include politics among my list of interests. I was more concerned that the people I would be working with would be political junkies with the fashion sense of Steve Erkel, than I was excited about the experiences that lay ahead.
The Sunday morning before I was to move into the Congressional Page dorm, my family and I dressed and headed into the dining area of our hotel for breakfast. I sat down and began to eat my breakfast when my dad plopped the latest edition of The Washinton Times in front of me. The headline read “FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN 1911 ~ 2004.” The article went on to say, “The body of the former president will be flown into Washington, D.C., and then will lie in state in the Capitol building.” Speechless, I looked back up at my family. I had no idea that my life was about to change forever.
The following morning after I had settled into the dorm, waved goodbye to my family, I walked to work with my two new roommates, who were just average 16 year olds and did not resemble Steve Erkel in the least. When we arrived at the Capitol building, our new boss, Ms. Sampson, greeted us. Ms. Sampson was a tall, attractive African American with a thunderous voice and an air of confident authority that demanded respect. When she told us that she was a former member of the D.C. police force, it did not surprise me; she was very intimidating. After going over her expectations of us, she told us that most of our week would be in preparation for what would truly be a national event. The morning Reagan’s body was to be laid in the Rotunda; Ms. Sampson gave us orders to report to work the following morning at 5:30 a.m. After a few sighs of discontent, she smiled and explained that she had arranged for us to have a private viewing of President Ronald Reagan lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda at 6 a.m. She firmly directed us not to bring any personal items other than our Capitol ID badge.
On my walk back to the dorm, I made a comment to a few of my new friends that I wished that I could bring a camera. I wanted to show all my friends back home how much better my summer job was than theirs was. Another page walking in front of us, turned and snapped, “This is the Former President of the United States, not the circus. You’re there to pay respects to one of the most influential Presidents of all time.” She then turned red and sped off. Wide eyed, my friends and I just looked at one another and stifled our laughter. It was not until later that we would understand what she was trying to tell us.
That afternoon, many Pages gathered on the Capitol lawn and watched the procession of the casket of President Ronald Reagan down Constitution Avenue and up the Capitol steps. Thousands lined the streets to catch a glimpse of what remained of the man they admired.
The following morning, my mind was still groggy as I dressed for work. Still yawning, I walked up the Capitol steps shortly after 5 A.M., showed the guard my ID badge, walked under the metal detector, and headed towards the Rotunda. Ms. Sampson was standing there waiting on us near the entrance. She instructed us to get into a single file line and walk quietly into the Rotunda.
I held my breath as I entered. I suppose I had become accustomed to the noisy hustle and bustle of gawking tourists; their absence made the room eerily silent. Surrounding the casket was an honor guard comprised of highly decorated soldiers from every branch of the military. They stood like statues, undistracted from their task of guarding their president. I remember watching them the day before as they marched through the street of the capital city and with great effort and care, brought him up the stairs of The Capitol and into this great, empty room.
All I could hear was the shuffling of feet from those around me, and the beating of my own heart. The faint perfume of flowers filled the air as I neared the funeral spray. My stomach turned into a knot and I felt goose bumps prickle up my arms as I neared the casket.
In that same instant, I realized that I was in the same room with one of the most beloved presidents in the history of our country. He was the man that I had read about in history books for so many years. This man changed the political shape of our country and the world. A feeling of wonder overcame me as I began to comprehend that I was paying respect to a legend, not just a famous face. This was really happening, and I finally understood. With this, the Page who had snapped at me’s words echoed through my head as I paid respects to him not just for me, but also for my family and friends who could not be there to say “Goodbye, well done, Mr. President”.
That week, tens of thousands of people of all ages came to stand in line for six, seven, and even eight hours in the hot, June sun to view and pay their respects to President Ronald Reagan. Only a few times in our history has our nation turned out in such great numbers to acknowledge the passing of greatness and mourn together as a country; the last time was the death of President Kennedy.
President Ronald Reagan taught so much to me, and this country. As president, he helped us to close the wounds of Vietnam and he ended the Cold War with his resolve and famous words, “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall!” He taught us, even as politically divided as we were, to be optimistic again, to look ahead, and restored to us great vision for America.. Moreover, we learned of enduring love in his relationship with wife Nancy, even in times of sickness and great loss. I can never forget Nancy as she laid her head on the coffin gently and lovingly saying good bye. President Reagan’s optimism permeated me that day and changed my outlook on life and aspirations. There have been few men in our history as a nation that so inspired and changed us.