PORTSMOUTH — When middle school students gathered inside the gymnasium to unveil its new portrait of President Abraham Lincoln Friday afternoon, they couldn’t have asked for a more fitting keynote speaker.
“It’s not every day we have a former chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court here,” said Principal Joseph Amaral in introducing Frank J. Williams, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island and an avid Lincoln scholar.
Facing a crowded assembly that gathered for the school’s annual Presidents’ Day celebration, Mr. Williams referred to President Lincoln as a “real cool guy” whose achievements were worth emulating.
“Since I was 11 years old I’ve been infatuated with our 16th president,” said Mr. Williams, founding chairman of The Lincoln Forum and one of the country’s most renowned experts on the former Illinois lawyer. “I used to spend my lunch money — 25 cents a day — in a used book store buying Lincoln books.”
After his military service Mr. Williams studied to be a lawyer, and Lincoln would remain the biggest inspiration throughout his life.
“It’s always good to have a hero from history because they teach us many things. One of the strengths of my hero, Abe Lincoln, was his civility — how he treated others. My lesson to you is to be kind to each other,” said Mr. Williams, who urged students to perform random acts of kindness whenever they could.
The former chief justice said he was also impressed with Lincoln’s ability to mediate disputes, something students should learn so they can diffuse any disagreements with classmates.
Students should also follow Lincoln’s lead by living “a life of consequence” through public service, he said. “We owe out country and this community a great deal,” he said.
Mr. Williams concluded his remarks by quoting from Lincoln’s State of the Union address to Congress in December 1862: “It is not, ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but, ‘Can we all do better?’”
He and Interim School Supt. Barbara McGann then unveiled the school’s new portrait of the 16th president, “which will be displayed for years to come in our library,” said Mr. Amaral.