Laura Bush discusses initiatives and time as First Lady

Laura Bush talks philanthropy for SU visit

Bush spoke Wednesday to students and community members in Whitman’s Lender Auditorium.
Published: May 1, 2019
SU Laura Bush Whitman
Former First Lady, Laura Bush, visited Syracuse University to talk about her time in the White House - and everything that she has done since.

Laura Bush spoke about her time as First Lady and gave updates to her philanthropy initiatives during a talk at The Martin J. Whitman School of Management on Wednesday evening. Bush spoke at 5:30 p.m.  to an auditorium filled with students and Syracuse University community members.

Bush’s visit was part of the D’Aniello Family Speaker Series, which hosts prominent leaders to speak about topics like entrepreneurship, leadership and veterans’ issues. The series’ founders, Daniel D’Aniello and his wife Gayle, donated $20 million last June to the construction of SU’s National Veterans Resource Center. The center will house the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

IVMF executive director and founder, Mike Haynie, introduced Bush’s talk with Dean of Libraries David Seaman. Bush discussed topics ranging from her current education and environmental initiatives to her tenure as First Lady from 2001 to 2009 during husband George W. Bush’s term as president.

She said the White House staff is what she misses the most about Washington, D.C. — and the chef, especially. “We got to be such great friends with everyone we worked with,” Bush said. Having the advice of her mother-in-law and former First Lady Barbara Bush before she entered into the role was a big advantage, Bush said.

The White House itself was also a source of comfort for Bush, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, because it housed former Presidents who faced their own defining challenges. “There’s a sort of reassurance in living in the same place as they all lived,” she said.

Bush discussed the passion for hiking and preserving native plant species that lead her to create Texan By Nature. She said its work has lead to the planting of native plants in 120 acres across the state, and even encouraged a defense contractor in Austin to start beekeeping.

Bush said that her mother, who was an avid birdwatcher and environmentalist from Midland, Texas, also fueled her interest in conservation. “She’s the one who really inspired me,” she said.

The WE Lead initiative, which was founded by the Bush Foundation, sponsors women from North Africa and the Middle East to visit democratic institutions in the United States. Bush said the initiative recently took women to Silicon Valley to learn more about the Internet and technology in the wake of the Arab Spring protests.

Bush also spoke on updates to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was founded in 2003 to bring wider HIV treatment to African countries. The organization now also screens women for cervical cancer and provides HPV vaccines for men and women.

Before she was First Lady, Bush was a second-grade teacher and then became a librarian at the University of Texas at Austin. She founded the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries, which funds updates to school libraries’ book and media collections.

One of Bush’s own teachers inspired her to go into education while she was in elementary school. “It was a very mature decision for a second-grader to become a teacher,” she said. Her background in education was helpful in the role she had while George W. Bush was governor of Texas, Bush said.

When Bush asked if any sisters from her sorority Kappa Alpha Theta were in the audience at SU, hands in multiple rows flew up.

“I’m happy to be here at Syracuse,” she said at the end of her talk. “As you noticed, I’m wearing orange.”

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is a staff producer for The NewsHouse.