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Schools With Ties to Nixon Mark Former President's Death

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At a memorial ceremony last week at Nixon Elementary School in Roxbury Township, N.J., students and teachers watched a video's flickering images of their school's namesake, Richard M. Nixon.

Filmed five years ago during Mr. Nixon's Flag Day visit to the school, the video captured the former President long after he had moved from public office into the role of genial elder statesman. He talked easily with children, chucked babies under the chin, and left behind 400 business cards, all personally autographed.

"He said, 'I want you to understand: I did not use an auto pen to sign these,''' Principal Katherine Dvornick recalled. "'I spent two nights in front of the television signing each one. Hang on to them because they will be valuable one day.'''

Few schools could offer such an intimate portrait of Mr. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, who died April 22; many, in fact, declined to formally note the passing of such a controversial figure. But at a few schools with strong ties to Mr. Nixon, students gathered to honor the life and legacy of a President who resigned from office before they were born.

Despite President Clinton's proclamation of April 27, the day of Mr. Nixon's funeral, as a national day of mourning for which the federal government shut down, few schools, if any, closed that day. In California, Mr. Nixon's home state, William D. Dawson, the acting state superintendent of public instruction, announced in a memo that schools could close "as a mark of respect.''

School officials in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco reported no closings.

In Yorba Linda, Mr. Nixon's hometown, students and teachers at Linda Vista Elementary School hung a banner on the school's fence that read, "Farewell Our Native Son.'' The 25-foot-long banner was painted in the Presidential colors, with blue letters on yellow background.

The school's fence faces Imperial Highway, on which the cortege carrying the President's body traveled en route to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, where Mr. Nixon was buried.

Memories of a President

At nearby Fullerton Unified High School, where Mr. Nixon spent his freshman and sophomore years, Ed Shaw, the school principal, started the day by reading from a congratulatory letter the former President sent to the school for its centennial celebration this year.

In the letter, Mr. Nixon reminisced about a debate medal he won at Fullerton, his first recognition for public speaking. He also quoted a yearbook inscription from a friend who questioned what each would be doing in the future: "'Will you be selling groceries or I toting ice; or will you be President?'''

In Cerritos, Calif., where the President's late wife, Patricia Ryan Nixon, grew up, students at Pat Nixon Elementary School sent flowers to the Nixon library.

Also, at a ceremony April 27, members of the student council there read a biography they had prepared to honor Mr. Nixon. "His life started out with a dream, and with hard work and confidence that dream became a reality as he rose to the top,'' they concluded.

Many school officials steered memorial activities away from discussions of the Watergate scandal that led to Mr. Nixon's resignation in 1974.

"There are some limits to what we can do and what the kids can understand,'' said Ann Test, the principal at Linda Vista Elementary. "We do not focus on Watergate. That's a complex issue, and we're focusing on the positive.''

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