Presidential Leadership Lessons

This post was originally shared as part of my contribution to the Pope John Paul II High School February Family Newsletter.

While Presidents’ Day honors our presidents of the past, millions of Americans are watching closely to gather information to decide who will be our nation’s next president, taking office in about eleven months. During the slings and arrows of a campaign, it is at times difficult to find real leadership while the candidates hurl outrageous insults and astounding claims back and forth. It is difficult to hear real solutions to America’s problems amidst the noise.

With my sophomore students in AP US Government class, we are watching this election closely. I try to stress that politics is a noble profession, and service to our nation as an elected official, chosen by the people, is a high calling. Again, sometimes the nonsense on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle makes this claim difficult to prove.

During our observance of Presidents’ Day this month, maybe the best places for our students to look for examples of leadership and character can be found by looking back at those who once held the nation’s highest office, as opposed those who aspire to it.

From Ronald Reagan, our students can learn lessons about clear communication, as Reagan delivered a clear, concise message that connected with and inspired millions of Americans.

From John Kennedy, our students can learn that every generation must answer the call to leadership when summoned, as Kennedy inspired an entire generation with a call to service.

From Franklin Roosevelt, our students can learn that personal struggles such as disability can be overcome, conquering one’s own physical frailties to as Roosevelt led our nation to victory in a worldwide war.

From Theodore Roosevelt, our students can learn lessons that a life lived with enthusiasm and vigor, is a life lived well, emerging from the depths of personal tragedy as Roosevelt promulgated bold, progressive ideas of a new American Century.

From Abraham Lincoln, our students can learn that surrounding oneself with brilliant people, even former adversaries, promote collaboration and problem solving, as Lincoln saved our nation from a bitter civil war while emancipating thousands from slavery.

As our students keep a close eye on the present and move toward the future, they can a lesson or two from the talented, yet flawed men we remember on Presidents’ Day, men who once occupied the White House and allowed the drumbeat of our nation to continue on, regardless of the challenges it faced.

Students and 9/11


Most adults can recall exactly what they were doing on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was teaching a group of high school freshmen in World History class and they were working on warm up exercise about what a future civilization 3,000 years from now would think of our current American society. Discussion just started when a colleague entered the room and told us to turn on the television. The discussion that just started immediately ceased and then changed forever.

Members of the incoming Class of 2019 were infants or not even born when our nation was changed forever by the events on that fateful day.  Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of those tragic events.  Since that day, our students have grown up with the War on Terror, Homeland Security, airport security lines, and even the TV news crawl as the soundtracks of their lives.  Our students may be too young to remember 9/11, but as educators, it is our task to prayerfully ensure that none ever forget. 

After all, the discussion has changed forever.