Mark Mathias is many things. He’s the founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, a statewide organization promoting innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. He founded Westport’s Maker Faire, has served on the Board of Education for 14 years, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.
In that last capacity, he’s attending this week’s National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He’s joined by 35,000 Scouts from around the world (120 from Connecticut, including Westporters), and 5,000 adult support staff. Mathias’ role is radio communications.
Yesterday was a special one at the sprawling camp. Here’s his report:
This year, we were honored to have President Trump address the Jamboree.
Scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., preparations for his visit started well over a week ago. The venue opened at 2:30, and numerous restrictions were in place. It took nearly 2 hours from the time I got in line and snaked down the pathways until I reached one of 2 entrances.
All day long, and particularly in line, lots of Scouts and adults wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Once inside the venue, box lunches were given to each person. Free bottles of water were handed out to every attendee, since it was very hot and muggy. Luckily there was some light cloud cover and a brief sprinkle of rain to keep people cool while we waited on the grass.
The scouting organization was good at keeping the crowd entertained, as the Scouts stayed in their troop areas. Many patches were traded, and ice cream vendors did a land office business.
By 6 p.m. the stage was set. A man placed the presidential seal on the podium.
Around 6:20 we saw the presidential motorcade arrive, winding down the hill to the rear of the stage. The crowd frequently chanted: “We want Trump!” and “U! S! A!”
When Mr. Trump came on stage, he received a very warm welcome from the assembled Scouts. Thunderous applause and chanting of his name was a marvel to hear.
As he started his speech, Mr. Trump indicated he would set aside political differences for the evening, and instead talk about how to be successful. He mentioned that 10 of the members of his cabinet were Scouts, and brought on stage Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.
Other than the time I went to Washington to see a presidential inauguration with my family, I have not attended a live event where the President of the United States has spoken. I believe that the opportunity to see and hear the president is something everyone in our country should have. I also believe in respecting the office of the president.
Speaking to other scoutmasters in the audience as we waited for the president, I heard that some troops had talked seriously about not attending. Luckily, the scoutmasters I spoke to did not let this opportunity pass by. As I left the venue after the speech however, I saw a handful of troops that elected to not attend.
With a great start to President Trump’s speech, I had high hopes he would use it as an opportunity to inspire this largest collection of Scouts in the United States to do great things, and have scouting be a way to give them the skills they need.
Unfortunately, President Trump moved to subjects of repealing Obamacare, “fake news,” and how well the economy and stock market are doing since his election.
The crowd welcomed most of President Trump’s comments with great cheers, although there was the occasional boo — in particular when President Trump mentioned that President Obama did not address a Jamboree. (Click below for the entire speech.)
I stood in the audience, trying to absorb what was going on around me. Was the crowd responding to the fact that they had the President of the United States speaking to them? Were they truly supportive of the policies being presented to them? A combination of these and other reasons? Am I out of touch with America?
On the walk home and in talking with the people with whom I’m working, the conversations were muted. A few people said they thought Trump did a great job. Others were more critical of his speech. But adults on both sides of the subject were remarkably unenthusiastic. It was almost as though the speech didn’t happen. It surprised me that there was not a great desire to talk about what we had just witnessed.
The experience for me was somewhat surreal. Being in the audience as the president addressed us is a great honor. Feeling the energy of the crowd — but not the motivation — made me feel out of place. Then, after having experienced what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the president in person not be ebullient about it, was downright odd.
I hope to have more opportunities to participate in events of this nature, and hear leaders in their own words. I hope to be able to share these experiences with my family and friends. Most of all, I hope that we all grow as a result of these experiences.