Students benefitting from the Bryan Opportunity Program share at least one thing in common with President Ronald Reagan—a needs-based scholarship made college possible for each of them.
Michael Reagan, the 40th president’s eldest son, told an audience of some 330 at the Bryan Opportunity Program dinner that his father was from a family “so poor he did not know if he could go to Eureka College. He had good grades, was an excellent student, but he didn’t have any money. He wrote Eureka College and asked for a needy child scholarship and was accepted.
“That’s exactly what you are doing here. You are saying needy students should have the opportunity to go to college. Because Ronald Reagan went to college he became a sportscaster, then an actor, governor of California, then president. If he had not gotten that needy child scholarship, I don’t know what I’d be doing today.”
Michael Reagan regaled the audience with stories illustrating his father’s humor, faith, and love for America, qualities he said made him the beloved figure he has become. The morning after the president was shot in 1981, Michael Reagan said he went into his father’s hospital room and asked, “How do you feel?” Imitating his father’s voice, he said his father replied, “Well, yesterday I was shot. If you’re going to be shot, don’t wear a new suit. I wore a new suit, and they cut it off me.”
He said the assassination attempt changed his father’s approach to the presidency. Before leaving the hospital to return to the White House, he prayed for his assailant. Later, in meeting Pope John Paul II, who also had survived an assassination attempt, the two leaders were able to share their experiences and a resolution to spread freedom throughout the world. “The two felt God had bigger things for them. That’s what happens when you put God first. These two great leaders put Christ first, and because of that, the world was changed.”
“When I look at his life, I’m convinced the reason people love him is not because of what he did politically, but because he was grounded in faith. He was able to get so much done because he could reach out to people not with a fist but with an open hand.”
The Bryan Opportunity Program guarantees that academically qualified Tennessee students with family incomes of less than $35,000 per year will be able to attend Bryan College without having to pay tuition. Federal and state grants cover much of the cost, with the Bryan Opportunity Program making up the balance, Bryan Vice President for Advancement Blake Hudson said.
Through the efforts of the host committee and gifts at the dinner, some $200,000 of the $275,000 goal for the coming academic year has been raised or pledged, Mr. Hudson said. For more information about the Bryan Opportunity Program, visit the website.
The following morning Mr. Reagan spoke in Rudd Auditorium during a chapel program to tell a more personal story. During preparations for Thursday's dinner, he told a few well-wishers that "if it weren't for what I'm going to say (in chapel), I wouldn't be able to say what I'm going to tonight."