by Lynn Bassanese
Most days at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum are really good; some could even be classified as great. But every once in a while a day becomes exceptional. Last Thursday, July 11th was one of those exceptional days.
We were hosting 120 school counselors and college and university professionals who were attending the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC) conference on the Marist College campus from July 9-11. Marist College is just down the road from the Library and a terrific partner; hosting our website and working with us on digitization projects. Marist arranged for several regional excursions on the last evening of the conference and the Library was very pleased to host part of the group.
Their visit started in our auditorium seeing the engaging orientation video and then Education Specialist Jeff Urbin welcomed them with the story of King George and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Hyde Park in 1939. We hoped to make our visitors feel as special as the Roosevelts had made the British monarchs feel. Yes, hot dogs were on the picnic menu that Marist was providing later in the evening.
Next we sent them over to our new permanent museum exhibits and set them loose. During their time in the exhibits they had the opportunity to visit our Dutchess County conference room to see some of our most famous original documents. I walked through the exhibits as they visited, answering questions and encouraging them to see everything.
At six o’clock the group gathered in our Visitor Center for a delicious picnic supper. During my welcome at dinner I explained to them what a presidential library was and how important access was to our Library and to our agency, the National Archives and Records Administration. And I reminded them that it was FDR’s vision that people could learn from the past to better create their own future that was the driving force behind all the Library did.
As the folks were getting back on the buses to leave so many people stopped to tell me how much they enjoyed their visit and the new exhibits. So far, I was thinking this was going into the great day category because what Library director does not get a special feeling when people appreciate and love what we have presented. But then an older woman came up to me and took my hand and said she wanted to thank me. She said she was from Venezuela and with tears rolling down her cheeks she squeezed my hand and told me how much this visit meant to her.
“This is what democracy looks like,” she said with the most beautiful smile. And all of a sudden July 11, 2013 became one of the Library’s exceptional days.
These days much of our time is spent on reports and audits, and we must spend so much time looking for ways to cut our budgets and doing more with less. But we should never forget that at National Archives facilities all over the country; at our presidential libraries, at our regional centers, at Archives I and II; we are what democracy looks like. I will always remember the lovely woman from Venezuela who reminded me of that. And how could there be any more important and rewarding job than that!