While resourcefulness and networking are two skills any Princeton student hopes to hone before leaving campus for the real world, Genevieve Ryan ’11 mastered them prior to becoming a Tiger. As a teenager, Ryan, with the help of a few influential Washingtonians, authored "The American Presidents," a song designed to help children remember the occupants of the Oval Office. The tune has received national recognition in the last few years.
"People don't know as much about our government as they should, especially about its leadership, so I think [the song] is a fun and educational way to learn about the highest office in our country," Ryan, a Maryland native, said about her creation.
Ryan, who is majoring in politics, began the project at age 12 when her father asked her to memorize the presidents as a Father's Day gift. She constructed a series of couplets to the melody of William Tell Overture to help her remember the proper order. Her parents, impressed by her ingenuity, encouraged her to further develop the song as the American equivalent of a popular British tune that lists the order of the country's kings and queens.
Ryan drafted her lyrics, along with sheet music, and contacted a few family friends, including the late Hugh Sidey, a former Time magazine White House correspondent, who checked her song's historical accuracy, and Leonard Slatkin, a former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, who helped with its musicality. Eventually Ryan teamed up with arranger James Kessler and members of the Marine Band to transform the song into a sophisticated orchestral piece.
"When I was sitting in the recording studio and listening to the finished product, I realized it could really go somewhere," Ryan said.
Indeed "The American Presidents" has taken off since Ryan arrived at Princeton. Ryan's vision of making the song accessible to students around the country was fulfilled last year when a Washington Post article about it spurred blogs to circulate Ryan's story. She realized what an impact her song was having when an elementary school teacher from Ohio contacted her via Facebook, requesting that the song be made available for download. A version of the song now appears on the White House Historical Association's Web site with an accompanying video.
Ryan's love of politics, sparked at such an early age, has continued and could end up guiding her future as well.
"I've always been really interested in American politics," she said. "My family is very [politically involved], so I've been surrounded by it for a long time. When I got to Princeton, my worldview became so much bigger, but politics really does excite me ... and it's something I would be interested in doing in the future."