When Centralia Christian High School freshman James Hastings skipped class to go to California, it was not to play at Disneyland or party on the beach. Instead, he spent four days in sunny Southern California hanging out with over one hundred teenagers who all have one thing in common — a passion for American freedom and traditional values. Coming from all across the country, these students met at the High School Conference hosted by Young America’s Foundation. Hastings was one of just a few participants from Washington State.
The student conference focused on President Reagan’s legacy, current events, and the Foundation’s core mission: a commitment “to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”
Originally slated to be held at the Reagan Ranch, President Ronald Reagan’s private residence which is owned and maintained by the Foundation, the conference, unfortunately, had to be moved at the last minute due to road closures from a wildfire. Participants gathered instead at a hotel in Santa Barbara to hear from guest speakers including Hillsdale College Distinguished Fellow Dr. Burt Folsom, writer and speaker George Harbison, Fox News contributor and vice president of The King’s College Brian Brenberg, and Michael Reagan, President Reagan’s son.
Meeting President Ronald Reagan’s son was a highlight. “Michael Reagan talked about his father’s legacy, his childhood, and what it means to be an American,” said Hastings. He was impacted by Reagan’s challenge to the students about the importance of Americans “loving America” again and “not making ourselves our own enemy.”
In addition to seminars, students were treated to a tour of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “The Air Force One Reagan flew on is there on display, and we got to go inside it,” said Hastings who was impressed with how the library was built around the airplane.
The modern-looking museum and library include paintings, a funeral case with memorabilia from his funeral, a copy of Reagan’s Bible and copies of pages from his diary with some of the words blacked out. “Everything he wrote during his presidency is there, but not all of it is displayed,” said Hastings. The presidential helicopter, Marine One, and police vehicles from Reagan’s funeral were also on display along with the former president’s boots, belt buckles and saddles.
Although disappointed he wasn’t able to see the Reagan Ranch because of the wildfire, Hastings said they were able to visit the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara which is also owned by Young America’s Foundation.
While the conference format included mostly lectures, “we also had time to socialize and make connections with other students,” said Hastings, who in spite of having to dress up for dinner banquets each night, enjoyed meeting other high schoolers with similar interests.
The freshman has been actively involved in civics and politics since middle school through the Civil Air Patrol and the YMCA Youth and Government program. Last year as an eighth-grader, Hastings participated in a mock legislature where he was able to write and pass a bill. His growing knowledge, confidence, and enthusiasm from the Youth and Government program spilled into the classroom, inspiring both his teacher and classmates.
“Although naturally quiet, James encouraged his classmates to debate current events in class, explained tricky parts of the U.S. Constitution, and taught them the basics of Parliamentary procedure. He even volunteered to teach a lesson on Washington’s Farewell Address as part of our U.S. history study,” said his former eighth-grade teacher, Robin Montgomery. “I was impressed with how he absorbed knowledge about U.S. history and civics and was willing to share that passion with others.”
The conference was a natural next step for this aspiring young man. He has big dreams for his future — dreams that include serving in the military, pursuing law school and maybe one day serving his state or his country in the government.