presidents day

President’s Day — a Day to Celebrate

by Bernie Swain

It may not seem like it now, but President’s Day is still a Day to celebrate.

President’s Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday of every February. Prior to 1971, it was called Washington’s Birthday in honor of our first president, George Washington, born February 22, 1732. Today, President’s Day celebrates the accomplishments of all presidents.

For many, President’s Day doesn’t seem the same as it has in past years. But, it is still a day for reflection and learning. Over the years I have learned some valuable life lessons from our presidents. As a young teenager reading history books, Abraham Lincoln taught me the importance of forgiving your enemies. Watching his press conferences on television, John. F. Kennedy taught me the importance of humor and humility. Later, in person, Ronald Reagan taught me the importance of being true to the defining moments and powerful influences that shape our lives. And George H.W. Bush taught me the importance of kindness and generosity in the way we treat others.

In his story from What Made Me Who I Am, Bob Gates, American statesman, former director of the C.I.A and Secretary of Defense, shares what he learned from our first president.

“Sometimes I learned what lessons not to do, which can be just as valuable. Stansfield Turner was a four-star admiral in the US Navy when he was named to head the CIA, and he brought sixty navy people with him to the agency. It had a tremendous negative impact because it sent a message that he didn’t trust the people already in place. It amounted to a hostile takeover.

Turner’s example was on my mind on December 18, 2006, when I walked into the Pentagon—alone. I didn’t even bring an assistant with me. The message I wanted to send: I trust you, and the last thing we need in the middle of two wars is a neophyte secretary of defense surrounded by neophyte staffers.

I think one thing that helped me navigate the treacherous waters of Washington was that people knew that I was willing to walk away, that it wasn’t about ego for me. And when I was ready, I left. I had been secretary of defense for four and a half years, and we had been at war every day during that time.

In walking away from power, my inspiration was George Washington. When I give talks about the recent revolutions in the Arab world, I point to the history of revolution going back 250 years—the American, the French, the Russian, the Chinese, the Iranian, and a host of others. Of all of those, there is only one that turned out reasonably well in the first decades after its conclusion, and that was our own. And it was because George Washington was willing to walk away from power.”

President’s Day is still a Day to celebrate. Who is your favorite president and what did you learn?

Get more lessons from turning points and everyday life in Bernie Swain’s new book, What Made Me Who I AmAvailable on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

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