By Bill Foley
Correct answers earned a piece of candy that came directly from the White House.
Dr. Ron Layton, a former Montana Tech football player who is currently the Deputy Assistant Director of the United States Secret Service, had a pocket full of the special LifeSavers as he talked with the entire student body of the Kennedy Elementary School Thursday morning.
One incorrect answer also earned a LifeSaver and a big laugh from Layton.
“McDonald’s,” one young boy answered when Layton asked if anyone new the code name for President Donald Trump, who is known for his love of the fast-food restaurant.
Layton bent back in laughter before handing the boy the candy. “Did I get it?” the boy asked.
“No, you didn’t get it,” Layton said. “But it was funny.”
Layton will give the commencement address at Montana Tech’s graduation on Saturday. On Thursday, he had a younger audience in mind as he kept the attention of some 250 students for the better part of an hour.
“This is all about the kids,” Layton, who played running back for the Orediggers from 1983-87, said after his talk. “Maybe something pops in high school or college and they remember what was said.”
While it was tailored to a much younger audience than Saturday’s, Layton’s message is similar to the one he will deliver to the Orediggers. He emphasized making right choices.
“Good choices lead to good things,” he told the children. “Bad choices lead to bad things.”
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Layton, who wore No. 33 for the Orediggers, walked into and around the crowd of children, who were seated on the floor, as he asked questions to make his point. Students raised their hands to answer even before the questions were asked.
He brought one boy up in front of the group to demonstrate the right way and wrong way to shake hands when meeting someone new.
“The first time I met Mr. Obama, it was just like what I showed you,” he told the students. “The first time I met Mr. Bush, it was just like I showed you. The first time I met Mr. Pence, it was just like I showed you. The first time I met Mr. Trump, it was just like I showed you.
“The first time I met the janitor of the White House, it was just like I showed you. We are all important.”
Layton talked about the importance of being polite.
“It takes no money to have good manners. None,” Layton said. “If you can do that, you can go any place in the world. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can go anywhere.”
Montana Tech graduate Brian LaDue, a long-time friend of Layton, arranged for the visit to the Kennedy. LaDue figured the school, which was rocked by a suicide of a fourth-grade student two months ago, could use something positive, and Layton definitely delivered that.
The kids were all smiles and at full attention as they visited with Layton, who came with special guests including Montana Tech star receiver Dion Williams, Montana Tech head football coach Chuck Morrell and the one and only Charlie Oredigger.
LaDue, who lost his parents to an accident when he was 4, met Layton when Layton played for the Orediggers and LaDue was a young boy always hanging around the team.
“He had a big impact on my life,” LaDue said when introducing Layton to the Kennedy Crusaders. “He let me hang out with him every day.”
Layton explained his job to the students. That job is protecting current and former presidents. A 26-year veteran of the Secret Service, Layton has protected every president from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump.
“One of the things I do in my job is I keep all of them safe, every last one of them,” Layton said.
Layton told the children about the White House, where the president lives on the third floor. He told them some of the day-to-day details of life on Pennsylvania Avenue.
He also told the children about growing up as a poor child in Pittsburgh.
“We didn’t have any money,” he said. “Guess what was around me all the time? Drugs, violence and a lot of things that were awful.”
He was able to avoid those things, he said, by making the right choices.
“You’re the one who gets to decide,” Layton said. “When you make good choice, good things happen.”
Layton’s good choices led him to Montana Tech, where he became a Frontier Conference champion. He wore his 1983 championship ring as he talked with the students.
Layton, who holds the rank of eight-degree and Jiu-Jitsu, also emphasized making good choices when using social media, something we will also stress to the Tech graduates.
“I have a really cool job,” Layton said. “I’ve been on Air Force One, I’ve been on Air Force Two, and I’ve been to the White House 5 or 6 thousand times. If I do something stupid tonight on social media, I will get bounced out of my job tomorrow. You really have to be careful with what you post. It is there forever.”
Finally, Layton was asked by a teacher to answer the question that had the room howling with laughter early in his presentation. What is Donald Trump’s Secret Service code name?
The answer is “Mogul,” Layton said.
That drew a laugh from the teachers and older guests in the crowd, but it drew many puzzled looks from the students.
To them, “McDonald’s” clearly would have been a much better choice.