The Future Doesn't Belong to the Faint Hearted
28 January 1986, The White House, Washington DC
Did you like Ronald Reagan? Good President? Bad President? Did you share his politics? It doesn’t matter for the purposes of this, and if you didn’t like him you can note that he never wrote his own speeches: Peggy Noonan wrote them. But Reagan delivered them, and boy could he deliver.
The Challenger space shuttle disaster was played out live on television; everyone who saw it remembers it. Reagan (or Noonan) found the right words for the occasion, delivered pretty much right after it happened. If you ever need to do a eulogy, you could do a lot worse than look at this performance by the actor who got all the way to the White House.
It’s conversational and comfortable, but he goes a bit quicker then he might in the first few lines until he settles into his rhythm. And what you get is a great pace and rhythm that envelopes you, draws you in and has you believing him, with a tear never far from your eye.
The lines when he addresses the schoolchildren are the best ones in this speech, but it’s also a terrific idea to come up with the thought in the first place: loads of children will have been watching live, or seen it on the news and doubtless be asking questions of their parents. It gives you a great foundation as a teacher or a parent if the President of the United States says:
"I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
It would be possible to write those words up on a board and then say to the class: let’s discuss.
Reagan uses the eulogy to say that the space programme will continue, “our hopes and our dreams will continue”. He also invokes Sir Francis Drake, who died that day, unsurprisingly on board a ship (Google can help you with important anniversaries for your research, by the way…). Finally, he says his last goodbye to the honoured seven and has them “touch the face of God ”. And invoking God is pretty much essential in America, especially in these circumstances.