On January 28th, 1986 Ronald Reagan gave his moving speech/eulogy to the nation regarding the terrible news of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. This shuttle mission was a milestone for the space program as it was carrying a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who had planned on conducting two lessons from space. Almost every television was tuned into the coverage of this shuttle’s launch, and America listened in on the commentary surrounding what was a normal mission. In just one minute and 12 seconds, to our nation’s horror, the shuttle exploded.
The day of the Challenger disaster was also the same day Reagan was supposed to deliver his State of the Union Address. Instead, he addressed our nation on the tragedy that had just occurred, putting his nation’s inhabitant’s grief above all else. His Address attempted to aid the nation in its recovery, eulogize the American lives that were lost, and instill hope in our country after such a tragic loss. He does a phenomenal job of addressing each group within his whole audience—the American People.
An aspect of the address that comes across explicitly is Reagan’s appeals to Pathos. He recognizes that he is dealing with an emotional situation, and knows that the best way for him to achieve his goals of instilling in America a sense of unity and hope, is to use many emotional appeals. To do this, he accomplishes this through his strong wording, and addressing several different groups of people.
Reception In the Moment
Firstly, he addresses our nation as a whole, recognizing them all as a collective, that they, including him, are all mourning for the lives that have been lost. He points out each crew member by name and praises them for their courage. He then addresses the families of the victims saying that, “we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you very much.” He goes on to say that their deceased loved were “daring and brave” and they had “special grace,” and the line that gives me chills every time I read it: “that special spirit that says,
“Give me a challenge, and I’ll meet it with joy.”
Ronald Reagan was always an amazing communicator, and his decision to address the schoolchildren of America is something I commend him for. Even though young kids would not have understood the gravity of the situation, he still chose to address them, and takes on the role of what could only be an empathizing parent when he says, “I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen.” He concludes this portion of his speech with, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
He went on to say, “We don’t hide our space program,” he said, “We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.” At this time, the Cold War was going on. To make sure that the Russians knew what the U.S represented, exploration and strength. Sort of like a subtle, “don’t mistake this for weakness, as a nation, we are strong,” approach.
Reagan’s superb delivery of this speech adds to the overwhelming reception of it in terms of helping this nation heal. Even today, this speech is viewed in awe as one of many that were needed at the exact time it was delivered. You can tell how genuine Ronald Reagan is. These are his own feelings he is expressing, for his love of country and the people that live in it. His quiet and solemn tone throughout also expresses his own grief for the lives lost. He concludes his speech by stating that the crew members of the Challengers are to be honored and that they deserve to be remembered.
In the face of shock and horror, Reagan was there to be the light in the dark for Americans. His speech demonstrated just how important it is to keep exploring the unknown. That no one should be discouraged, least of all children.
If Reagan’s speech was given today, in the turmoil of the pandemic we are currently experiencing, I believe it would still be received in the same way. His speech depicts a message of hope, while still eulogizing the lives that were lost. It would remind us that we are a nation of pioneers, and that we will have painful experiences, but there will always be good in the world. Whether that be brave and courageous people who are willing to put exploration and discovery above their own lives. I believe Ronald Reagan would be commending the healthcare professionals and first responders that are currently in the thick of this pandemic.
He always had a way with words and I honestly believe this would’ve transcended decades.