The Bush years, through the eyes of the First Lady

KEVIN VOGEL | Arts, Etc. Editor

One of the first things former First Lady Laura Bush did when she took the Clowes Memorial Hall stage Monday was place a bobblehead doll of herself on the podium.

She said a friend gave her the bobblehead after finding it in a gift shop in Washington, D.C., on the clearance shelf.

The bobblehead story drew a laugh from the audience and set the tone of Bush’s speech.

Bush appeared at Clowes as a speaker in the Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series.

Throughout, she used humor and a positive spirit to discuss the ups and downs of her years in the White House.

The Diversity Lecture Series also brought Bush’s father-in-law, former President George H. W. Bush to campus in 2006, a fact which was not overlooked at the event Monday.

Bush said that she was glad her father-in-law had been invited to speak at Clowes, and said she felt “just at home” at Butler University.

The lecture series also featured former President Bill Clinton in 2005, though that fact was not mentioned during the event Monday.

Bush began her speech by giving the audience an update on her family.

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Her first grandchild, Margaret Laura “Mila” Hager, was born in April of last year. Bush said she and her husband were deciding  which “grandparent names” the child would call them.

“George just wants the baby to call him, ‘Sir,’” she joked.

When she turned the topic toward her years in the White House, she concentrated on forming her identity as a First Lady.

She said some people, especially in the media, tried to paint her as a “1950s housewife” who spoke properly and did not voice her opinions.

They were wrong, she said.

One of the ideas she fought so hard for, she said, was the belief that every child in America should learn to read.

Bush said one of the reasons literacy is so important is because literature affects the identity of a nation.

She cited “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe as one novel that influenced the course of American history.

Though Bush did not mention this, the example was particularly appropriate for her audience.

Stowe spent some time in Indianapolis and there is a rumor that she based that influential novel’s protagonist on a real emancipated slave who lived in Indianapolis.

Stowe herself said the character was a composite of a number of individuals and did not reflect any real person.

Stowe’s brother Henry Ward Beecher was a minister in Indianapolis between 1839 and 1847.

His church was located on the circle downtown, but after he left, the church moved north, and then north again to its present location at 77th and Meridian, a mere 31 blocks from where Laura Bush spoke Monday.

One of Bush’s more poignant  reflections had to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bush said she watched the events unfolding from the office of former Senator Ted Kennedy.

“I was trying to process what was happening,” she said.

She was then taken to a secure location underneath the White House, in a room which she said was spartan in terms of space and living arrangements.

In another example of Bush’s sense of humor, even this time in the face of tragedy, she said the room “looked like it had been decorated during the Truman Era.”

That night, she said she and George were thankful they and their family were safe, but knew that could not be said for thousands of other Americans.

“On Sept. 12, like all Americans, we woke up to a different life,” she said.

Throughout the following years, Bush said she saw acts of bravery and citizenship from many Americans.

She said it was the job of all Americans to step up and face fear and failure, and the fact that America has citizens that routinely do that is one reason why this country is so beautiful.

“After many adventures, we are at home in Texas in what I call ‘the afterlife,’ in what George calls ‘the promised land,’” she said of their retirement from the White House to Dallas.

Bush also highlighted the philanthropic work she and her family are doing, with special attention to the George W. Bush Institute in the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Mrs. Bush runs the Women’s Initiative arm of the institute.

“George is very project-oriented,” she said. After passing on his presidential duties to Barack Obama, he was “desperate for a pastime.”

Now, she said he practices painting every day and works with an art instructor.

One last piece of advice she left for audience members was a piece of advice given to her by Hillary Clinton.

“Don’t think you’re too busy to take advantage of opportunities,” she said.

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