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‘All’s well that ends well’ for Mynatt’s English class in 1983

For Shirley Mynatt, shear fright gave way to calm on the day President Ronald Reagan visited her English class at Farragut High School.

“I was terrified up until that day,” said Mynatt, whose class of about 30 seniors was part of a special two-week “make-up” summer session studying “MacBeth” when Reagan visited on June 14, 1983. “I had talked to the Secret Service and I got to thinking, ‘I can’t do this, I’m going to hyperventilate, I just can’t handle it.’

“But when I got to school that morning I just got in my regular parking (space), I just took a deep breath and I thought ‘this is my turf, these are my kids and I can handle this,’” Mynatt added. “I was much calmer that day than I was before.”


Adding to Mynatt’s pre-visit fears were visions of flying spaghetti deflected by the Secret Service.

“When Mr. (James) Bellamy called me to tell me that the President was coming and that he would be in my class, one of the things that scared me was several of the kids, maybe ten kids, had been suspended from school because they had been involved in a spaghetti fight,” Mynatt recalled when hearing the principal’s message. “They were not bad kids, It was just a senior prank. Nevertheless, they had been suspended from school. They didn’t get to finish and graduate on time. They had to go to summer school.

“I told Mr. Bellamy, ‘we can’t do this, do you remember who’s in this class? These kids are unpredictable,’” Mynatt told the principal. “But Mr. Bellamy said ‘it’ll be alright, they’re not going to embarrass you.’ And he was right.”

As it turned out, the students themselves were more frightened than Mynatt.

“The kids were terrified,” said Mynatt, now retired after 36 years of teaching. “When we got to class the kids were so nervous that that also made me calm. They were really scared, and they didn’t even want to talk. They were asking questions to me about procedural things.”

A can of tuna almost sent one of Mynatt’s students into orbit with fright after Secret Service metal detectors located the can in his pocket. “It just scared him to death, he was just reduced to jelly at that point,” Mynatt said.

As for question and answer time, Mynatt recalls that her students had much latitude.

“They had prepared their own questions that they wanted to ask the president,” Mynatt said. “Nobody prompted them on that. His answers were specific and to the point and impressive.”


Mynatt’s students were treated to a presidential rendition of “MacBeth.”

“I just asked him to read a passage from ‘MacBeth,’” Mynatt recalled about the “Tomorrow and Tomorrow Speech” passage. “I had printed it out in large caps (capital letters) because I thought he might have difficulty reading it.”

However, “he didn’t need my copy, he actually had almost memorized it,” Mynatt added. “In fact, I’m not so sure but what he had not memorized it and I was very impressed by that.”

Reagan put the passage into context as he spoke to Mynatt’s students.

“When he finished the speech, he said to the students, ‘I hope you will never feel as desolate and as hopeless as MacBeth,’” Mynatt said. “He placed it in context to the play, and I was very impressed with his deliverance of the speech.”

In order to avoid a misunderstanding with the nation’s most powerful political figure, Mynatt erased one of the “MacBeth” quotes she kept on the blackboard.

“When I’m teaching ‘MacBeth,’ one of the quotes I used with the kids is ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ I usually have that on the board,” Mynatt said. “I thought, ‘I better not leave that on the board, that might look a bit pointed or something.’”


Not to forget the national media, Mynatt remembers former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson as being “devilish” among the national, state and local media in an adjacent classroom where a portable wall was opened.

“I remember how devilish Sam Donaldson was with the kids in the class while we were waiting (on Reagan),” Mynatt said, adding that they waited “at least 30 minutes” past Reagan’s scheduled arrival time. “I remember Sam Donaldson teasing some of the girls in the class.”

But Donaldson teased Reagan in a different way, cutting no slack with the president among Mynatt and her students.

“I don’t remember the questions or the issues, but Sam Donaldson sort of went after the president with whatever questions he asked,” Mynatt recalled, adding that Donaldson stood out among the media.

To her surprise, Mynatt herself stood out. “I was not prepared for all the attention that came from it,” she said of the nationwide recognition. “I got newspapers from everywhere, out-of-state, places that I had never heard of, people were sending me newspaper clippings.”


Although not remembering the exact time President Reagan visited her classroom, “less than thirty minutes would be accurate” according to Mynatt, who taught English at FHS from the 1974-75 school year through 1988-89 then became the school’s librarian from 1990-91 through 1997-98.

But from those valuable minutes, a very important yet simple conclusion was drawn.

“It went very well,” Mynatt said.

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