Leading off, President Obama, followed by Presidents Carter, George W. Bush and Clinton. Then, slotted between Robin Roberts and David Gregory, and just ahead of Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates and Taylor Swift, with Bill O’Reilly, Marco Rubio, Steven Spielberg, Uma Thurman, Conan O’Brien, Rachel Maddow and other luminaries in the wings, is the lone baseball player in their midst, Shane Victorino.
Victorino, like the rest, is reciting a portion of the Gettysburg Address, first delivered 150 years ago Tuesday by its author, Abraham Lincoln. They all appear on a video that promotes the latest project by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who aspires to have everyone in the country recite the address, video themselves doing so, and post it on a website established for that purpose.
The project is inspired not only by the speech’s anniversary, but a film Burns has made about an extraordinary school for learning-challenged boys in Vermont, the Greenwood School in Putney, where memorizing the address plays a transformational role in the boys’ lives.
“The Greenwood School is across the river from where I live in Walpole,” Burns said. “Ten years ago, they asked me to be a judge for the evening [of recitations]. When I went, I wept like a baby.”
After judging three or four more times, Burns said, he decided that he would depart from dusting off the past and make a film about the school and these boys who had so touched him.
“We embedded for three or four months and made this film, which I think is incredibly inspirartional,” Burns said. “You get to know many of the boys, their struggles. Some have come there as a place of last resort. Some have been bullied, certainly marginalized, their families are desperate. And they blossom.”
Burns, knowing of Victorino’s advocacy on behalf of children and adults with ADHD, a condition for which he still takes medication, saw a natural connection, especially after Victorino delivered the decisive hit in the Game 6 clincher of the World Series.
“This was better than ’04,” said Burns, who made the celebrated documentary “Baseball” and is an unabashed baseball fan. “Because ’04 was about getting a monkey off the back, it was about loss. This was about confidence. ‘Every little thing, don’t worry about a thing, everything’s going to be all right.’ Everybody’s screaming that, knowing that it would. And then Shane hits a Monster-scraping, bases-clearing triple. That’s unbelievable.”
Burns went to the Red Sox, asking if Victorino would be part of the project. Many of the participants recited the entire speech; Burns said he’d be happy if Victorino did so, too, but would be satisfied even if he did a small portion, like President George H. W. Bush did, which is what ended up happening.
“I had only read very late into the season that he suffers from ADHD,’’ Burns said. “These kids [at Greenwood] have learning differences that include ADHD, dyslexia. All of a sudden, since he was such a star of Game 6, I thought wouldn’t it just be great, and the Red Sox were fantastic.
“Conan already had volunteered and read it really beautifully. Shane came to the studio and they said, ‘Wait, you’re in a suit.’ They ran out to a store and bought him a Red Sox jersey and put it on him.”
Last week, Burns was on CNBC, on the floor of the New York stock exchange, when he got a text. It was from Victorino.
“He saw me doing the spiel on CNBC, and he’s in Hawaii, where it’s real early in the morning, and he’s working out, and he texts me a picture of me, and says ‘Mahalo, Ken, aloha.’
“Shane, I love him. Just love him.”
Burns’s film, “The Address,” will air on April 15, which will be the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s death by an assassin’s bullet. In the interim, he is challenging all to record their version of the speech and post it to this site. Victorino, along with the presidents and other dignitaries, can be seen here.
“It’s wonderful,” Burns said of the response. “An entire stadium, I think BYU, has recited it, or is going to. One guy who heard about it back in June, when I invented the challenge but hadn’t really publicized it, he went to all 50 state capitals, then sent me a mashup of reciting the address with other people. This thing is really hitting it.
“We have Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi but also Marco Rubio. It’s a real ‘Kumbaya’ thing without the treacle and sentimentality. We love to sing in unison. We love to sing ‘Sweet Caroline’. We love to sing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. We sing in church.”
And if Red Sox maestro Charles Steinberg should decide to orchestrate a communal recitation at Fenway Park, led by Victorino? Burns laughed. “I’d love to do it,” he said. “Why don’t you suggest it to him, and I’ll follow up.”