In an address that at times resembled a Young Republican rally, former President Ronald Reagan told students at Pepperdine University on Monday that he is having some difficulty adjusting to life as Citizen Reagan.
“I’ll be walking by the television, and I’ll hear, “ ‘Today the President . . . ,’ and I say, ‘What did I do?’ ” Reagan told the cheering audience.
The nation’s former chief executive, who received a hero’s welcome from about 4,000 students and guests who filled the gymnasium at the Malibu campus, regaled the crowd with humorous anecdotes about his years in office and his new life as a Bel-Air resident.
But Reagan, looking tanned and rested, admitted that his departure from the White House was bittersweet.
“There is a little nostalgia about the routine involved,” he said. “But the White House was very pleasant, you know . . . . It was just wonderful there. But a Californian, away for eight years, lives in a little state of homesickness.”
Officials at Pepperdine, which has strong ties to the Republican Party, said Reagan agreed to waive his $50,000-per-speech fee to address the weekly student convocation. The university did its best to make the former President feel at home, showing a short film highlighting Reagan’s years in office that was introduced at the 1988 Republican convention. The film received several loud ovations.
The university long ago bestowed honorary degrees on Reagan and his wife, Nancy, and the former California governor attended a ground-breaking ceremony for the Malibu campus in 1975. Pepperdine President David Davenport joked that university students renamed a tree Reagan had planted “the Reagan Bush.”
Before answering questions from 10 Pepperdine students, Reagan gave a short speech in which he sounded familiar themes that have marked his new life as a celebrated private citizen on the “mashed potato circuit.”
He said he will continue to lobby for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, to get Congress to approve a line-item veto and to repeal the 22nd Amendment which limits a President to two terms.
“I believe that is an infringement on your democratic rights,” Reagan told the students. “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
Since his return to Southern California, Reagan said he has had difficulty writing about his two terms in the Oval Office. Reagan has signed an estimated $5-million contract to write two books, including a volume of memoirs, with Simon & Schuster.
“I want to tell you, I sit looking at those blank pages, but I want to give readers an idea what it’s like in that house they drive by,” he said.
Although Reagan told a previous audience that he was “saddled up and ready to ride” into a post-presidential career, the Pepperdine students decided to offer him a new form of transportation. They gave him a surfboard bearing the university’s name.
Reagan, sharing the homespun tales that marked his popular presidency, said that while he was prepared for his new career, he was still getting used to the experience of moving into a new home.
“I’m still getting rid of those cardboard boxes,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many boxes in my life. And they don’t tell you on the outside what’s in ‘em. We’re still looking for a heating pad.”