As East Room ceremonies go, it may have been one of recent history's briefest. But to Nancy Reagan yesterday, making her first appearance in her husband's second term that addressed the problem of drug abuse, it only pointed up what she's been saying all along.
"If you could get the young people involved," she told 27 very involved young people she had invited to the White House, "we'd be so far ahead. Now that you are, I think we can make great strides."
They were teens and preteens from around the country working in three new antidrug endeavors -- the Department of Health and Human Services' new publication "Teens in Action"; a newly created organization associated with the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth called REACH (Responsible Educated Adolescents Can Help) America; and another new group called the "Just Say No" Club.
"There may be times when you get a little discouraged and think it isn't worth it, you know, that the results aren't what you had hoped," Mrs. Reagan said. "But keep in mind if you even save one life, it's worth it, so keep going."
One of her youngest guests was Soleil Moon Frye, 8, star of the NBC-TV series "Punky Brewster," who is serving as national chairchild of the "Just Say No" clubs.
"I'd like to give you a 'Just Say No' button, okay?" said Soleil, with all the stage presence of a Ronald Reagan. "I just want to thank you for making kids say no to drugs."
When Soleil joined the other youths standing behind the first lady, she looked less like a television star and more like a slightly embarrassed 8-year-old. Wearing black trousers beneath a white dress, a huge black satin jacket with "Punky Brewster" embroidered on the back and black patent sandals with mini-heels, she crossed and uncrossed her feet and couldn't quite decide what to do with her hands.
She had regained her composure by the time she talked to reporters on the North Lawn of the White House. She wouldn't be tempted to use drugs, she said, because her parents had warned her of the dangers.
The advice she said she would give other kids is that using drugs can "hurt your body and if you do it there's a real chance you won't survive. A lot of schools don't really care and kids take drugs, but my school Los Feliz Hills School in Los Angeles where she is a third-grader has things, like every time we have a ceremony, they tell kids not to use drugs."
She said her producers hope to do a "Punky Brewster" episode that focuses on drugs, if the show is renewed for next season. One possibility is asking Nancy Reagan to appear as guest star.
"Our producer really likes her," said Soleil. "He's been trying to get her on his show since it started."
The "Just Say No" Club was founded by Angel Wiltz, 10, a fifth-grader in Oakland, after Mrs. Reagan paid a visit to her school. Angel and two Oakland club members attended yesterday's ceremony. Their group is aimed at grade-school children, encouraging them to say no when approached by their peers to try drugs. The club will be sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In "Teens in Action," 15 youths tell how to be part of the "Say No" process in their communities.
REACH is affiliated with the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, which trains young people to start youth groups. About 2,000 young adults have been trained since September; an estimated 15,000 others are expected to be trained by the end of the year.