Dana Perino: My last day at the White House (and Obama’s first)

Inauguration day is like two ships passing in the night; the new staff moving in while the other walks out, taking one final look at the White House lawn as they leave with their cardboard box of possessions.

The new administration is excited, energetic, and nervous. The old are nostalgic bearing battle scars, quiet pride, and more wisdom than before they worked at the White House.

This day reminds me of a quote by “President Bartlet” on the TV show, “The West Wing”:

Bartlet: “There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?”

Will: “It’s the only thing that ever has.”

That’s what Inauguration day is all about. It isn’t so much as a period at the end of a sentence, but an ellipsis. There’s a lot of living still left to do.

I remember my last day working for President George W. Bush well. Here is an excerpt from “And The Good News Is where I go back to January 20th, 2009:

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On the morning of January 20, 2009, I made my way to the White House for the last hours of the Bush administration. I took the Metro because the roads were all blocked off for the inauguration’s security.

Almost every passenger on the train was headed to the National Mall to witness President Obama take the oath of office. They were so joyous, and I was genuinely happy for them. No one recognized me or knew that I was going into my last four hours of work at the White House — it was like Cinderella approaching midnight and the Metro was about to turn into a pumpkin.

I went into the press office and checked in on the reporters gathered in the briefing room. Everyone was getting ready for the Obamas to arrive. I took the reporters and crew some of my last boxes of White House peanut M&M’s and said good-bye for the hundredth time — we’d been together many years and they’d helped me grow into the job.

My last stop was the Oval Office. The president was there, taking some last-minute calls of farewell. He had written the traditional letter for the next president and left it in the desk — addressed to “44.”

I walked in and he put his arm around me and said, “You know, the first day I was president, I came in here and I said I wanted to be able to look myself in the eye and say I’d been true to my principles every day that I had the privilege to be the commander in chief. I feel like I can do that.” He squeezed my shoulder and my nose stung as I sniffed back tears of pride and nostalgia.

With that, the president said he was going to take a final walk around the South Lawn and then head over to join Mrs. Bush. As he left the Oval Office, White House photographer Eric Draper took one last photo of him. I marked that moment in my memory — there went a great president.

A few hours later we met up with him after the inauguration, this time at Andrews Air Force Base. He and I made eye contact as he was about to board the plane that would take him back to Texas, to a place he calls the “Promised Land” and to what Mrs. Bush calls the “Afterlife.” He summoned me over and then cupped his hands around my face and bent down to kiss my forehead. I felt like everything was ending, and it was. But so much was beginning as well, which has been the good news. I was ready for it.

Excerpted from the book AND THE GOOD NEWS IS…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side.” Copyright © 2016 by Dana Perino. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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