Andrew Reuter
Rep. Paul Ryan stayed away from political strife during a speech to his alma mater at Craig High School on Monday.

Speaker of the House speaks to his high school alma mater in Janesville

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Frank Schultz
Monday, February 15, 2016

JANESVILLE—Speaker of the House Paul Ryan took a break Monday from a highly charged political season to give advice to high school students.

Ryan spoke at Craig High School, his alma mater, and steered sharply away from political issues and personalities.

Instead, he told high school stories, like the time he ran for president of the student council with a cousin for vice president. Their motto was “Ryan squared.”

And the time his mother did not want to pay for a new letter jacket for young Paul, so she took his older brother Tobin's jacket, removed Tobin's letter and numbers and sewed on Paul's, Ryan recalled.

Monday, Ryan took that same jacket and presented it to Tobin's son Mac, saying Mac should hand it down again when Ryan's son, Charlie, earns his letter at Craig.

“Awwwww!” a few girls could be heard cooing at the gesture.

Ryan got standing ovations from the packed auditorium, although some students could be seen not applauding.

Ryan retold the story of his father's sudden death when Ryan was 16. Ryan was the only other person at home on that summer day and found his father.

Craig High became like family in supporting him that year, he said

“Thank you for this. Thank you for this moment. This school means more to me than just Craig High School,” Ryan said.

Ryan's high school classmate Ryan Masterson, now a history teacher at Craig, had invited Ryan to speak when Masterson attended Ryan's swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C., last October.

Masterson introduced Ryan on Monday, noting that students were about to hear from a man who in 2012 ran for vice president, who is second in the line of succession to the presidency and who is “one of the most powerful people on the planet.”

He's also someone who could very well run for president, “maybe something you should think about, Paul,” Masterson said.

Masterson said afterward that students had heard an inspiring message from a man who will be mentioned in history books.

Years from now, they might be telling their children and grandchildren about it, Masterson said.

Ryan also spoke privately to AP Government classes from both the city's major high schools, Masterson said.

Ryan said Janesville is a special community, and he spent several minutes mentioning the names of local people Ryan knew as a teenager who are raising families in Janesville now.

Ryan's advice to the hundreds of students included that they should stay focused on who they are who they want to be.

“I learned at a young age that in this country, if you apply yourself, if you focus, you can make a huge difference in people's lives. You can make a huge difference in whatever it is you want to do. That's what's so great about freedom. So many people who are 15, 16, 17 and 18 in the rest of the world, they don't get to choose where they want to live and what they want to do with their lives. You do. It's a great gift.”

Ryan also recommended that students respect each other's opinions.

“We live in difficult times. We live in times where people have strong opinions. You could say it's a fairly polarized country,” and students are likely to form strong opinions and encounter others who hold opposing opinions just as strongly, Ryan said.

He encouraged the students to respect those who hold opinions different from their own.

“They're not evil. They're not bad people,” he said.

“They just think differently.”

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