PINEDALE – Assistant principal Janel Scurlock kept the teeming students busy with a few jokes while Pinedale Elementary School Principal Greg Legerski welcomed Sen. John Barrasso into the building. Legerski then took the microphone to introduce Barrasso.
As Barrasso explained it, Scurlock and Legerski were two of the local ties that connected the senator with the group of second- through fifth-graders gathered in front of him in the elementary school gym on March 29.
Barrasso explained to the students that he was on a conference call a few weeks earlier with educators from across Wyoming. Scurlock was also on that call. As Barrasso explained it, the conversation steered towards the brightest students in the state. Scurlock told him he needed to visit Pinedale Elementary to see the finest students in Wyoming.
Later on, while answering a question about how he became senator, Barrasso said he received good help from the Legerski family. Some of the students were awed at that news.
The other main connection Barrasso had to the students came from a former page – Pinedale graduate Brooke Hornberger. She interned in Barrasso’s office last summer and told the senator to get to Pinedale, he explained.
Out of the gates, the first question he was asked concerned his age. He assured the student he was probably the oldest in the room. That gave him an opportunity to quiz the students on Wyoming’s age and briefly highlight the time George W. Bush came to Wyoming for the state’s centennial.
Barrasso also asked the students if they had been to Mount Rushmore or could name the four faces on it. Only when they could name all four did the senator explain Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with Wyoming. About how President Roosevelt gave a graduation speech at the University of Wyoming and said, “You’ve got here a great education, but more important than the education is the character of the people.”
That’s why Barrasso wanted to be in Pinedale, he said.
For the following nearly 35 minutes Barrasso answered various questions ranging from how long he’d been a senator (13 years) to if he’s famous (depends who you ask, he said) to what Wyoming has done to combat COVID-19 (it’s one of the leadings states in vaccinations) to how he voted for president in November (he voted for former President Donald Trump).
He talked about how he and President Trump took Air Force One to visit the Wyoming National Guard in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving, something Barrasso has been doing for years.
Barrasso asked the kids what laws they would change if they were president, which brought responses of building world peace, stopping littering, protecting animals and getting rid of pollution.
A student asked him what he thought about Pinedale Elementary no longer requiring masks. Barrasso said one of the lessons he’s learned in his position is that the best decisions are made on a local level.
He was asked, simply, if he liked his job. He said he does, partly because it gives him an opportunity to talk to students across Wyoming like the ones gathered in front of him.
Barrasso then closed by sharing how his mother told him, “This is the most important year of your life,” and how his father said, “You should thank God every day that you live in America,” because time spent in Europe during World War II taught him about the American opportunity.
After his parents, the senator channeled Roosevelt’s speech to UW graduates once again, quoting the century-old speech by saying “People of Wyoming, I believe in you and in your future.”
Barrasso then closed with a sentiment from President Ronald Reagan, who Barrasso said came to Wyoming and told its people what he loved is that Wyomingites still believe the future is theirs to shape. And how they could do whatever they wanted.
“And being from Pinedale Elementary School,” Barrasso finished, “it’s more true for you than for many, many people in America.”