Park City teen’s appearance with President Trump a ‘life-changing moment’
Ryan Zink on July 23 was in Washington, D.C., for a Student Action Summit organized by the conservative group Turning Point USA.
President Trump was amid a lengthy speech, and Zink was aware the president might mention him in the remarks. Zink, a 16-year-old incoming junior at Park City High School who lives on Old Ranch Road, was the vice president of the high school’s chapter of Turning Point USA during the most recent school year and will be the president during the upcoming academic year.
Zink became known in conservative circles after someone intentionally released pepper spray at the high school in April, an effort to stop Zink’s group from hosting an event. As Zink listened to the president in the nation’s capital on July 23, the pepper spray incident was moments away from becoming politicized at the highest levels.
Zink said in an interview he realized there was at least some chance Trump would call him to the presidential lectern during the remarks. It appeared, though, Zink would instead stand at his seat and wave to the crowd of conservatives, he said. But Zink also had a “gut feeling” the president would ask him to address the gathering.
“My first reaction was, ‘My goodness, I can’t believe this is happening,’” Zink said.
The president, interrupting his own remarks, opted to have Zink step to the lectern and speak, clapping as Zink made his way to the front of the room before shaking the student’s hand. As the crowd chanted “Ryan,” Zink offered brief remarks about the ideal of a student’s freedom of speech in front of a smiling Trump. The student said in his remarks to the crowd free speech in schools “is currently at stake.”
“It was really incredible. I would say a life-changing moment,” Zink said about the appearance beside the president. “He’s a person I really look up to. He’s a very hard worker.”
Zink described Trump as someone who gave back to the country by seeking the presidency. He said the president acted differently than he is seen in the media, describing the coverage of Trump as portraying him as “devilish.”
He said he hoped the release of pepper spray at the high school would be well publicized. Zink said the incident in Park City showed the public something like that is “actually happening in our schools.” The president acknowledged it is something that cannot happen again, Zink said.
“It meant a lot to me just to know the president agrees with me,” Zink said.
The release of the pepper spray required the evacuation of the building, with students and teachers complaining of respiratory issues. Fourteen people were treated at the high school. One person required hospitalization. An 18-year-old senior at the high school, who was 17 at the time of the incident, admitted to four counts in 3rd District Juvenile Court.
Zink’s appearance alongside Trump was a rare moment for a Park City-area resident to stand with a president in a formal setting like a presidential speech. Bill Clinton twice visited Park City on vacation during his second term in the White House, greeting people along Main Street, and George W. Bush once traveled to Park City during his second term for a private fundraising event.
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In another case, a 30-year-old Park City man pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.