Most students turn in their final essays at the end of senior year, receive a grade and that’s the end of it. Not so for students in William Rhatican’s Advanced Placement (AP) United States Government classes at West Potomac High School.
For the second year in a row, Rhatican has compiled those essays into a book and published them. This time the essays are about the Presidency, and the book is entitled “White House Under Fire.” Edited by Rhatican, the volume covers 40 key Presidential decisions from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush.
“The assignment was to select a president and then choose a challenge that he faced while he was in office and how he dealt with it,” Rhatican said. “They picked some really serious challenges and selected some pretty impressive topics. Every choice was their choice; the only time I got involved was if two students had the same topic.”
Rhatican said that he was surprised at the number of students who selected Truman, but Wade Rice laughed and said he picked Truman because he was Rhatican’s favorite president. Six students wrote about Truman, but there were also essays on Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and George W. Bush. Absent were Washington and Clinton.
The books are available in hardback ($25) and softback version ($17). Last year, for Rhatican’s trial run, he published “And Still They Come,” a smaller collection of essays about immigrants.
“It was easier the second time around — I learned from my mistakes,” Rhatican said.
The biggest change he made was to publish much earlier. Last year, the book didn’t come out until after students had graduated. The book was out in May this year and students have already held two book signings and have more scheduled for the rest of the month. The initial book signing at the West Potomac library had a line of people waiting to purchase books. Rhatican said that they have already sold about 200 copies.
THE STUDENTS are just as pleased this year as they were last year. “It’s nice being published,” said Robert C. Woehrle. “It looks more impressive once it’s sitting there [in the book].”
Rice, who plans to attend Newman College in Pennsylvania, said that he wouldn’t change anything, except maybe to “try to make myself sound more intelligent!”
Michael York said that he selected President Lyndon Baines Johnson because, "I’ve always had a fascination with the time period — it was very dynamic and Johnson was a focal point of that time."
York is satisfied by how it turned out and plans to attend James Madison University.
President Andrew Jackson was Robert Boden’s choice.
"I always thought he was an interesting guy and a fascinating character," Boden said.
Boden, who plans to attend Longwood University, said that it took him about a month to complete the 20-page essay.
Robert C. Woehrle wrote about President James Knox Polk and "The Mexican War, Actions and Consequences."
"He’s a relatively unheard of president who did a lot," Woehrle said. "I didn’t end up writing about him as favorably as I thought I would. He was successful, but it was in spite of his actions, not because of them."
Katherine Ward, who plans to attend Drexel University in Pennsylvania, selected President Jimmy Carter, but rather than choosing a crisis or action, she chose to write about his whole presidency and why it was seen as a failure.
"There was such a wholesale change in politics during his time and the dynamics of it makes me understand current politics much better," Ward said.
Rhatican is already planning next year’s book, the topic of which will be the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
A reviewer on the Barnes & Noble Web site said, “This book was so great. I was inspired by the wonderful student essays, most notably the one about Truman firing MacArthur by Rachel Chaney. Great job West Potomac seniors.”