Paul Ryan Gets Hometown Send Off at His Old High School

The presumptive vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) pauses during a "Send-Off" rally Aug. 27, 2012 in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)

JANESVILLE, Wis. - Paul Ryan had an emotional homecoming Monday at a rally meant to send him off to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

He hopped on the stage, after an introduction by his older brother Tobin, saying, "Hello Janesville it's good to be home!"

He then stood on the stage, taking in the about 2,000 people at the Joseph A. Craig High School that came to see the hometown boy at his alma mater. "You know I think I recognize just about every face in this room."

Ryan's voice cracked when he talked about the community and his commitment to it.


Then he told his own family story, one that could very well be on display this week at the Republican National Convention, where he will formally added to the Republican presidential ticket as Mitt Romney 's running mate.. An immigrant story that he said is not unique," but "the American story."

"Our family story is not different than most Americans' family stories," Ryan said. "You know back in the 1850s the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland so my great-great-grandfather with the shirt on his back made his way to Boston, worked his way on the railroads to get enough money to buy a farm and that brought him to the outskirts of Janesville, Wisconsin and he looked around and it was summertime and he said this looks just like Ireland. Then came winter and he said "oh crap" but they made a go of it and lots of immigrants came in those years to this town."

The concept of the "American idea" is something likely to reappear in Ryan's speech to the Republican convention in Tampa on Wednesday, according to an aide.

"Friends, family, this is a defining moment for our country," Ryan said. "This is not an ordinary election because it's not an ordinary time, we have a big choice to make. We're not just picking the next president for a few years, we are picking the pathway for America for a generation. And what Mitt Romney and I pledge is that you get to choose what kind of country do we want to have, what kind of people do we want to be. It comes down to that because the stakes of this election are so high. We've seen what the president has offered. We have seen the path he has placed us on. It's a nation in debt, it's a nation in doubt, it's a nation in decline. Or we can choose a better path, reapply those founding principles, reclaim the American idea, get people back to work and get the American idea of prosperity and opportunity in society back on track and that is exactly what we are going to do."

Ryan also spoke about the concept, which he often does on the campaign trail, when he said "America is not just a piece of geography, it's an idea. You know it's the only country founded on an idea and that idea is precious."

Ryan spent a lot of his speech praising his running mate, but it was friends in the audience that were lauding him, stressing how "down to earth" the House Budget chairman is.

Brian Fitzgerald, a friend in the audience, said Ryan has the "experience and the dedication to do it."

Fitzgerald also said Ryan has been calling people from Janesville that he feels helped him get to the point where he could be selected as Mitt Romney's running mate.

"Paul called my mother last week and told her that he was thinking about the way he got started on this path and the people that helped him when he was getting started out and one of those people was my father," Fitzgerald said. "Paul just calling some those people to let them know that he remembered and to acknowledge them and to thank them and he's just one of those genuine people that remembers where he came from and remembers how he got started."

Nancy Milholland first met Ryan at a church picnic when the then 28 year old was first running for congress in 1998. She said "the whole world knows that he's a policy wonk," but he's also the type of guy who will "have a beer with you."

"I mean he grew up in Wisconsin eating cheese!," Milholland said.

Brian Fitzgerald's daughter-in-law Katie knows the Ryans from the local country club where their families swim together in the summer.

"I don't see him in a political light at all," Katie Fitzgerald said. "I see him as a family man, especially when he's at the pool. He sort of checks out of work and he's in there jumping in the pool playing basketball with the kids jumping off the dive board you can tell that he is a really involved father."

She added that she always knows when he's in town because he always picks his children up from school.

And anything America doesn't know about the man set to accept his nomination at the RNC Wednesday.

"One thing you don't know?" Brian Fitzgerald said with a laugh. "He tried to get into Notre Dame but didn't, about all I can tell."