QUINCY — Abraham Lincoln issued a challenge, and a promise, Tuesday to students at Lincoln-Douglas Elementary School.
"You are the next best hope of democracy," said George Buss, who portrayed the nation's 16th president.
It's a message that even the youngest students can understand just based on the school motto to be respectful, responsible and safe.
"If a kindergartner understands respect, responsibility and safety, then they're living that democracy although they may not know what it's called," Buss said. "They live democracy. They may not know it by name yet, but they certainly have taken it to heart."
The elementary school's namesakes --Lincoln portrayed by Buss and Stephen A. Douglas portrayed by Quincyan Gary DeClue -- turned out to greet students at the door and at the morning meeting before talking with individual grade levels.
Students walked in with big smiles, offering handshakes and hugs to the pair, who posed for a multitude of photos along with Miss Quincy Emma Hildebrand.
"You're tall," one Lincoln-Douglas student told Lincoln.
"You'll get taller when you get a little older," Lincoln said.
Fifth-grader Miriam Teefey listened carefully as Lincoln and Douglas talked about being longtime political rivals yet friends who agreed that slavery was going to end but argued about when and how.
"It's important we realize why our school is named after these people and what they did to kind of make a name for themselves," Miriam said.
"There is a philosophy out there we were mortal enemies. If Lincoln was good, Douglas somehow had to be bad. That wasn't the case," Buss said. "What you need to do to continue the work is to educate the folks, When you say you went to Lincoln-Douglas Elementary in Quincy, Illinois, remind the folks they were friends."
It's the third year in a row that Lincoln and Douglas have met with students thanks to an initiative by the Lincoln-Douglas PTO.
With "so much thought and research put into naming these buildings. It's sad if we don't extend it and make sure they understand why," PTO President Ronda Lentz said. "Every building is doing that in their own way."
Lincoln and Douglas emphasized the importance of work students do in the classroom and how they treat each other. "That's your job. It's a big job," DeClue said.
Part of that job, as students get older, will be to vote.
"You've got to rise up and get the ballot. That's what's going to make a difference," Lincoln told fifth-grade students. "The lessons you learn allow you to go forward. We're hoping the seed is planted and that you all consider teaching or politics or the law as something you want to do to make Quincy better, to make Illinois better, to make the United States of America better."
Fifth-grader Ty Novosel already is taking Lincoln's message to heart.
"We can change things," Ty said.