Abraham Lincoln reminded 35 fifth-graders at Incarnation Parish School on Thursday that with hard work, not only could they be future presidents, but history might celebrate them forever.
For the 54th time this year, J.P. Wammack, a La Cañada Flintridge resident and Civil War buff, recalled the life, presidency and death of the 16th president.
"I had one overriding ambition, and that was to maintain the Union," he said. "In America, any man could do any job he set out to do and I wanted that to continue forever."
Leading up to the reenactment, students had been tracing Civil War history and preparing questions for Lincoln, which ranged from why he was assassinated, to how the world changed since his time and the difference between Republicans and Democrats.
"Ask your parents about that," he said, drawing laughs from the adults in the audience. "The Republican Party was a new party when I ran."
Alyssa Suarez, a student, said she learned more about Lincoln's final moments in Ford's theater, which Wammack recalled with precise detail and description.
"The interesting part was when he was at the play," Alyssa said. "Who killed him and how he died, I didn't know that before."
Wammack said in character that he was surprised students didn't ask about his top hat, which the president used to store important documents, nor the president's iconic beard.
A letter from a teenage girl inspired the real President Lincoln to grow a beard, Wammack said.
"'I think you'd look a lot better if your face was covered with whiskers, and I'll get my brothers and father to vote for you,'" he said. "I needed the votes."
He polled his audience, asking why the letter-writer mentioned only men.
"Because back then, women couldn't vote," student Amy Hah said.
For Liam Mahm, seeing Lincoln was an opportunity to see how the nation evolved since the 1860s. From Lincoln's life story, Matteo Mendoza could see the president's virtues injected into the American mainstream.
"He taught us to be more humane," Matteo said. "It was a step of maturity for the entire country. He gave us the philosophy that we have now."
Fifth-grade teacher Lauren Marriott said her students gravitate toward social studies, and seeing a live actor makes the material much more accessible for her students.
"Growing up, it was a lot of memorizing dates and places," she said. "We try to discuss the reasons behind things."
Breaking character for a moment, Wammack said he just wants students to pick up a book from a local library.
"If they understood the sacrifices men did so they would have their freedoms, I think they would respect it more and take advantage of it more," he said. "America is sill the place where your success is based mostly on your resolve to be successful.
"That's paraphrasing Lincoln a little bit."