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Friday, March 8, 2019

President Reagan Dedicates Epcot Center

by Chris Lucas
Guest Column
March 8, 2019

On this day in 1983, President Ronald Reagan officially dedicated Epcot Center, which had been already open to the public for five months. This would mark the first time a sitting President was on hand for such an occasion at a Disney park. 

Ronald Reagan was a friend of and shared a lot of personality traits with Walt Disney. One of those was their eternal optimism and belief that tomorrow would bring a better day.

Epcot Center, which opened shortly after Reagan began his first term, was the perfect embodiment of the hopes and dreams both Reagan and Disney held for the future of America and the world. It was only fitting then that Reagan would accept an invitation to help christen Epcot. 

Unfortunately Reagan's busy presidential schedule did not allow him to make the actual opening date of October 1st, 1982, so an alternate date was chosen for a "second grand opening" with the President.

On March 8, 1983, President Reagan arrived at the Walt Disney World resort, escorted by Dick Nunis, president of Walt Disney World, and several hundred math and science students from Central Florida.

President Reagan's first order of business was to take in the American Experience attraction in a theater full of students, which he said he found incredibly moving. (Ever the comedian, Reagan joked at his surprise about seeing the show with all those students and not getting hit with a single spitball.) He then made an afternoon speech at a podium set up right on the World Showcase Lagoon, directly opposite Spaceship Earth.

Reagan's remarks that day dealt mostly with the promise of Epcot and what it meant to his friend, Walt Disney, and to the world. He noted that the Disney Corporation had set up a fellowship program which would allow exchange students from countries featured in the World Showcase to come there and learn about America while also teaching visitors about their home and culture.

The technical side of Epcot was covered when Reagan spoke presciently about the speed of modern computers and how we were soaring into the 21st Century. The students got his attention once again when he pointed out that their aptitude at video games and digital devices would make them better prepared for the future than his generation. The crowd burst into laughter when Reagan pleaded with the youngsters not to tell their parents that the President told them they had his permission to spend all day playing video games.

Reagan followed this with a joke about a student whose teacher scolded him for getting everything wrong on his homework by saying "I don't know how one person could make all those mistakes!" The student's reply: "One person didn't, my Dad helped me make them!"

Finally, President Reagan reached out to the young girls in the group, encouraging them to pursue careers in math and science, citing Sally Ride - who would soon be the first female on the space shuttle - as an example to look up to.

It was a great day and Reagan concluded by telling everyone that he enjoyed his time at Epcot Center and looked forward to returning sometime soon.

Just a few years later, Reagan would be back at Epcot, making history again. On Memorial Day, 1985, he hosted the first Presidential Inauguration Parade outside of Washington, D.C. since the capital was moved there in 1801.

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