Exploring History and Leadership at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Exploring History and Leadership at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The Class of 2029 spends a day at the Reagan Library diving deep into history and testing their leadership skills.

Exploring History and Leadership at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

In a thought-provoking and educational visit, the Class of 2029 visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, with the goal of enriching their understanding of history, particularly in relation to their Civics and Citizenship course. The visit had multiple elements and experiences that unfolded throughout the day. 

A highlight of their trip was seeing the exhibition titled Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. This emotional and sobering display brought together a collection of over 700 original artifacts, described in the exhibition description as “of great historic and human value; objects which were direct witnesses of the horrors of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.” Kensi R. ’29 provides an overview of some of the memorable items inside the museum: “There was a shoe of a little boy who had been murdered in the gas chambers, there where real clothing pieces that prisoners at Auschwitz wore, there were many utensils that were found at the site, and there many personal stories throughout that you could listen to at your own pace.” The exhibition aims to portray the complex reality of the notorious camp—centering the human tragedies resulting from Nazi ideology—and diving deep into the history of Auschwitz to gain a deeper understanding of how such a place came into existence. This powerful experience left an indelible mark on the students, prompting reflections on the dehumanizing treatment endured within the camp. Ariel A. ’29 reflects, “We cannot detach a number from the personal life of each and every person that was tragically lost to the mass genocide. Six million Jewish lives lost seems big, but it becomes truly enormous if you try to count up to it, if you try to count every single life.”

Following the Auschwitz exhibition, students had the opportunity to “travel back in time” to 1983. They assumed the roles of President Reagan, members of his Cabinet, military advisors, and the press corps, participating in an interactive simulation designed to put their leadership skills to the test. Their mission: to make real-time decisions to ensure the safe return of American students from the island nation of Grenada.

Inside the Oval Office—an exact ⅓-scale replica of President Reagan’s Oval Office—students assumed the roles of President Reagan and members of his Cabinet. Each student was equipped with an iPad containing pertinent briefing information pertinent to the role they were inhabiting. Questions were posed to the group about how to proceed with the military operation in Grenada and through timed debates students needed to make crucial decisions using the information provided. Once the Cabinet reached a decision, they then needed to convince the student playing President Reagan why their decision was sound. Ceci S.B. ’29 assumed the role of President Reagan for one group. She reflects on the interesting responsibility of leadership saying, “I got to see what it felt like to be in a position of power during a stressful and difficult time. I also learned how easily my classmates and I collaborated until we had success.” In another group, Lulit L. ’29 acted as President. In awe of the detail put into the replica of the Oval Office, Lulit found sitting at the Resolute Desk replica memorable and special. In her leadership role, Lulit found power in teamwork. She says, “I learned that leadership is about listening to everyone’s ideas and then paving a path that everyone wants to follow, not just what works for you. It’s about progressing and learning as a collective.”

While the Oval Office team deliberated, the military advisors and press corps simultaneously engaged in similar simulations tailored to their respective roles. In the Command Center, where military leaders convened, a student took on the role of General John William Vessey, Jr., President Reagan’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kensi R. ’29 fulfilled this role for her group and found the entire experience enlightening. “It is really interesting to see the basic idea of what actually goes on when the president and the government are making big decisions,” she says. Just like in the Oval Office, the groups thrived when they worked together. Kensi observes, “When it came time to share ideas, everyone was quiet and listened really well. No one spoke over one another, everyone paid attention, and everyone was able to share their ideas without being judged.” 

Phylicia Q. ’29 and Ariel A. ’29 served as the Press Room Bureau Chief for their respective groups. Inside the Press Room, they led the press corps through a series of tough decisions. Ariel admits the initial challenges of leadership:  “Leading the group was definitely a bit awkward at first, but I think after the group had a discussion together, we were able to make our decisions effectively.” Phylicia echoed Ariel’s sentiments about the importance of collaboration and highlighted the importance of this leadership opportunity as a valuable learning experience. She says, “Being the Press Room Bureau Chief allowed me to expand my leadership skills and learn about what the press goes through to get information to Americans. It was an excellent experience.”

As the day concluded, Dean of Students and 7th Grade History Instructor Kendall Beeman reflected on the informative day: “Visiting the Auschwitz exhibition provided our students with a tangible connection to history. It's crucial for them to understand the gravity of past events and recognize the significance of standing up against injustice. The simulation at the Reagan Library complemented this by offering a hands-on opportunity to step into leadership roles, encouraging critical thinking and teamwork.” The field trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library provided the Class of 2029 with a unique blend of historical understanding and leadership development, leaving a lasting impact on their education and perspective.

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