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Federal File: Surprise appearance; I declare

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Teachers and students in Jackson, Miss., got a surprise last week when they turned on President Clinton's State of the Union Address. Just a couple of seats from first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sat Lt. Col. Lucius Wright, who runs a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at eight local schools.

Mr. Clinton recognized Mr. Wright as one of the first "community heroes" chosen to carry the 1996 Olympic torch from Los Angeles to Atlanta, the site of this year's summer games.

"We didn't know about it until the State of the Union," a Jackson school official said. "He didn't say anything."

The surprise was intended, said Mr. Wright's secretary, Ann Streeter, who knew about the possible Washington visit two weeks before her boss was told.

"We just couldn't let anything out," she said. "When the White House says keep it a secret, you keep it a secret."

Mr. Wright, whose JROTC programs involve 1,409 students, almost missed his chance to attend the nationally televised speech because he was vacationing in Arizona when White House officials tried to reach him.

She said Mr. Wright was in disbelief last week over the sudden twist of fate.

"He called to say, 'I have the ticket, this is real,"' she recalled. "He called again from the airport to say, 'I'm pinching myself to make sure it's real."'

When the National Review magazine asked Gary Bauer what he would like to see Congress do in 1996, the director of the Family Research Council proposed a mandate that all U.S. students be required to read a daily passage from the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Bauer served in the Education Department and the White House during the Reagan administration before becoming the head of the conservative, Washington-based research and advocacy group.

In a written response in the magazine's Jan. 29 issue, Mr. Bauer suggests that federal aid could be cut to states that failed to require the daily reading.

One benefit of this idea, he writes, is that students would be able to refer to the "Creator" in a nonreligious, and thus permissible, context.

Absent such a reminder of the nation's thematic origins, he adds, America's schoolchildren will continue believing that "their rights and benefits issue from the hand of Bill Clinton and/or Congressional appropriators."

--Robert C. Johnston

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