Reagan and YAF

Ronald Reagan had a deep concern for young people in America, and a special bond with Young America’s Foundation students. By his own account, Reagan’s career in public service was based on the conviction that America’s founding principles needed to be preserved and passed on to future generations.

“I hope you’ll believe me when I say that my decision to enter the political race was because I wanted so much to help preserve this wonderful country for you and the Skipper [Reagan’s son Ron] and all young Americans,” Reagan wrote in a letter to Sandy, the young daughter of longtime friend Lorraine Wagner. “There are so many things to be thankful for in America, so many things that must not be lost,” continued Reagan, “if some of us help keep this for you , I know you’ll keep it for other young people when you grow up.”

The relationship between Reagan and Young America’s Foundation—based on the shared goal of reaching young people with fundamental American ideas—began in the mid-1970s. Starting in 1974, Young America’s Foundation sponsored a nationally syndicated weekly radio commentary program featuring then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. The program allowed Governor Reagan to promote his ideas to the American people prior to his 1976 presidential bid. It served as a conduit for spreading Governor Reagan’s message on taxes, crime, and foreign policy, subsequently cementing his national following.

During each of his eight years in office, President Reagan invited Young America’s Foundation summer conference students to the White House for policy briefings. The president later recalled, “Each year, after my election in 1980, we hosted Young America’s Foundation at the White House. Together we accomplished much of what has come to be known as the Reagan Revolution.”

Taking the lead from their chief executive, this collaboration with Young America’s Foundation extended to the Reagan team, many of whom have held key leadership roles with the Foundation.

Young America’s Foundation’s Board of Directors and Board of Governors have consisted of long-time Reagan allies who helped launch the Reagan Revolution. Ron Robinson, president of Young America’s Foundation, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education during the Reagan administration. Frank Donatelli, secretary and treasurer on the Board of Directors and chairman of the Reagan Ranch Board of Governors, served as the assistant to the president for political affairs. Other Board of Directors members who served in the Reagan administration include:

  • T. Kenneth Cribb, assistant to the president for domestic affairs.
  • Edwin Meese, U.S. Attorney General,
  • Judge William Clark, Secretary of the Interior and National Security Advisor
  • Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense
  • Becky Norton Dunlop, Deputy Assistant to the President

A remarkable collection of Reagan alumni—including Jeane Kirkpatrick, Lyn Nofziger, Richard Allen, Peter Hannaford, Peter Robinson, and many more—have consistently spoken before Young America’s Foundation audiences.

In 1993, the 40th president addressed Young America’s Foundation’s 15th annual National Conservative Student Conference. Reinforcing his longtime partnership with the Foundation, he shared the credit for the extraordinary changes that had taken place during the past decade: “We helped turn the tide against totalitarianism,” he said, together witnessing the “rebirth of liberty” worldwide.

The president continued by directly addressing the tragedy of political correctness on college campuses, which he said had replaced Marxism as the dominant orthodoxy and had similarly worked to distort the marketplace of ideas. Like the battle against Communism, this, too, would require “freedom fighters”—this time on campus: “Young America’s Foundation remains a source of refuge for such students … I know the conference will send you back to your campuses better informed, motivated, and trained.


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