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First Lady Laura Bush MAG
Once a teacher and a librarian, First Lady Laura Bush now works on issues of national and global concern. Passionate about literacy, America’s natural heritage, breast cancer and heart disease awareness, her main initiatives include Helping America’s Youth, the United Nations Literacy Decade, the National Book Festival, Teach for America, and Preserve America. Mrs. Bush sat down with Teen Ink writers to talk about her interests, her family, and her legacy.
Christine: As First Lady, you obviously try your best to improve programs in education and literacy across the country. So, I was just wondering how you hope people will remember you.
Well, that’s a very interesting question. Of course, I hope people will remember me for the things that are most important to me, which are libraries and schools. I spent my life as a teacher and a librarian, and I focused a lot of attention on those, both through policy, with the No Child Left Behind Act, and then, of course, with a foundation, separate from policy, that gives money to school libraries around the country.
I also hope people will remember me for my interest in young people. Many groups that I’ve worked with do what they can to make sure all American young people have contact with at least one caring adult. First their parent, hopefully, but if that’s not the case, then somebody else. So young people can grow up knowing that people care about them and they can make wise decisions, not taking risks that could really change their life in a bad way.
Kelly: You’ve become extremely involved in literacy and library programs, but a lot of teenagers claim that they just don’t have time to read, or they don’t enjoy it. How can teenagers be taught to love reading?
I know that the easiest way for someone to learn to love reading is to have a parent who loves to read, who reads to them and talks about books - where books are always a part of their life.
I know many teenagers, even the ones who were read to when they were young, who stopped reading for pleasure during high school and college because there was so much reading required for school. But I also know that many of those people then start reading for pleasure again once they’ve finished college.
So I think it’s really important for every adult to give the message to children that reading is their most important skill. If you’re a good reader, you can read every subject. If you can’t read or you’re not a good reader then it’s very unlikely you can pass most of your schoolwork, and also be successful after school, because, especially in our economy today, so much of people’s occupations really depend on their reading skill.
So, what do you think? I don’t know exactly how you encourage kids to read. I think there are a million great programs that are trying to do that.
Christine: What are some books you think every teenager should read before graduating from high school?
Some of my personal favorites include The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and of course, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Your friends may be able to recommend great books to you - and be sure to recommend your favorites to them too. I’ve met many young people who have enjoyed these American classics: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Kelly: How can teenagers make a difference in their communities?
One of the best ways for young people to become involved in their communities is to volunteer as a mentor to a younger student. The after-school hours are an especially great time for students to help their neighbors. Each of us can do something to make a difference - volunteering as a mentor, helping out at a food bank or homeless shelter, cleaning a park, or helping to build a playground.
In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush challenged Americans to dedicate at least two years of service over their lifetime to others. A great resource to look for ways to volunteer is www.usafreedomcorpskids.gov/youth.
Christine: While in the Governor’s mansion and the White House, you’ve championed women’s causes including your work with battered women’s houses and your trip to Afghanistan. What do you think is the biggest women’s issue in America that you’d like to see improved?
I hope that we can make sure that women have equal pay for equal work across our country. And I think we still need to work on that - not in every field, but in some. I hope that women have every opportunity that men have to break the so-called glass ceiling, to be able to be the CEO.
But I also hope, and want, my daughters to know that they also can choose to have a life of being mothers, of raising their children, of being actively involved in their children’s lives. I hope they pick husbands and fathers to their children who will feel the same way. And I suspect they will, because that’s the kind of father they’ve had, and grandfathers - my dad and George’s dad - who were also very involved in their children’s lives.
As I look around the world, women’s problems are not the same ones that we find in the U.S. There are parts of the world where girls are literally forbidden to go to school, where people are beheaded for teaching girls. You realize how much we take for granted in our country, and, on the other hand, how often we really need to speak out. We need to speak out, but we also need to encourage people to speak out all over the world, to say societies can’t succeed if half of their population is left out. Economies can’t become prosperous if half the workforce is forced to stay at home, not allowed to walk on the streets or be educated.
In the United States, statistics about girls and women are better than for boys and men. About 56 percent of people in college now are women, and a little bit more than that in master’s and other graduate programs. Boys are going to college in fewer numbers than girls.
We know that boys are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be in jail. And I think because of that, it’s also time for us to look at the way we’re raising boys and think about whether we’re nurturing them the same way we are girls. We have this stereotype that boys are tough and they don’t need the same sort of nurturing that girls need, but it’s just not true. All children need nurturing, boys and girls.
And one of the programs that I’ve worked on the most is Helping America’s Youth, which the President announced in the 2005 State of the Union address, and asked me to lead. And boys are one of the main focuses (although girls are certainly included). I’ve been to unbelievably sweet fatherless boys programs, where men who grew up without a father know what a severe loss that was for them and are now mentoring boys without fathers - boys whose fathers are in prison, boys who never knew their fathers, boys who are fatherless.
I just went to this program in Mobile, Alabama, that ESPN sports analyst Mike Gottfried started. His father died when he was 11, and he realized there were a lot of things he didn’t know. He had a very stable and loving mother, but he didn’t know how to relate to women, didn’t know what to say to them. He didn’t really know what to wear for a job interview. It just never occurred to his mother to give him the advice a father might have.
And so Mike started this program called Team Focus. It’s nationwide. They have leadership camps in the summers, as well as matching fatherless boys with mentors. And the mentors don’t necessarily live in the same town, but they call them all the time and try to visit them. Often the boys fly for the first time going to visit their mentor or attending one of these camps. And it was very moving to visit this great program and to hear these boys talk about what it’s meant not to have a father, and how resolved they are to be a father to their children so their children won’t suffer such a loss.
Kelly: After your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, you became an activist for this cause. Do you think we are making enough progress, and what needs to be done to eliminate breast cancer, or to find a cure?
Actually, I was involved in the Komen Foundation before my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My grandmother had had breast cancer. And my friend, Nancy Brinker, started the Komen Foundation for her sister, Susan Komen, who died in her thirties. And when she started, about 25 years ago, women didn’t talk about breast cancer. It was embarrassing to mention it. And so women didn’t really know what to do to take charge of their health, both mammography or self exams.
And once the word really got out and women started to talk, and did things like the Race for the Cure, and brought breast cancer to the attention of doctors and women, we started to see a rise in survival rates. They do think there’s a very small decline in breast cancer cases, and they’re not really sure why. There’s a lot of money devoted to research, of course, for a cure, but it’s also really important for women to be aware and to seek help, because early detection is still the first and best way to have a good survival rate.
One of the things that the Komen Foundation is doing with our State Department now, in health public diplomacy, is reaching out to countries in Central
Europe and in the Middle East where (like the U.S. 25 years ago) women don’t speak about breast cancer; they wait until much too late, and their survival rates are very low - in Saudi Arabia, for instance.
So we have programs - the spouse of the Prime Minister of Hungary is getting ready, in Budapest, to lead a breast cancer three-day seminar, because in many of the Central European countries (including the former Soviet countries) breast cancer wasn’t mentioned. Nancy Brinker and people from our State Department have been to the United Arab Emirates, and to Morocco and Jordan to work with these countries. And Nancy Brinker told me that when she was there, in the UAE especially, women would come up and whisper to her that they had breast cancer, or their mothers had died of breast cancer.
I think these are great ways for us to reach out to other countries, and especially to reach women - women who in some of those countries don’t have the opportunity to reach out to other women.
Christine: With all the tabloids, Internet sites and other news outlets, how can teens educate themselves about what media reports are real versus what are just rumors?
Well, that’s a very good question. I think that most teens, because they are so knowledgeable about the Internet, know that not everything they read there is true. And I think that’s really important. Certainly there are a number of media publications that you can depend on, and most people know which those are.
But I also think that people need to treat all media, including the ones that are considered the most reliable, with some skepticism, and certainly things that you see on the Internet. I mean, that’s going to be a problem, that rumors and stories take on a life of their own and become what people think is the truth when it isn’t.
But I hope you treat all media with a bit of skepticism, and then do what you can to really research the things that you’re interested in. And speak out, also, when you know things aren’t true, or when you’re reading things on the Internet that you know aren’t right, don’t be afraid to weigh in on them.
Kelly: Given all the negative publicity surrounding so many celebrities, who do you think are good role models for teens, and why?
I think that older teens can be really good role models for younger teens and for younger brothers and sisters. I think teachers can be great role models; I think coaches can be really good role models - people whom you know in your church or your community.
There are a number of sports figures who are good role models; of course, there are some who aren’t. I really do believe that it’s fun to watch celebrities and to see whatever the stories are (whatever their failings are or how they’ve embarrassed themselves) but I hope people are learning from that, that that isn’t what they want, and that just being on the front of magazines isn’t really a fulfilling life. And I hope that young people will see that as they look at people who really aren’t good role models but maybe in a way can serve as a reminder of what they don’t want for their own life.
Christine: Many young people dream about living in the White House. What were some of the advantages, and disadvantages, of being teenagers in the White House when your daughters lived there?
Because their father is President, Barbara and Jenna have had a front row seat to history. Certainly they would say one of the advantages has been the opportunity to meet many they have admired from afar, including Czech freedom fighter and former president Václav Havel, Queen Elizabeth, and rock star Bono. Barbara, who is interested in design, has met fashion designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. Jenna, a teacher, met Wendy Kopp, the CEO of Teach for America.
They have also been able to travel with the President and me to countries all over the world. And now that they’re out of college, both have worked overseas. Barbara worked at a pediatric hospital in South Africa, where many of the young patients had AIDS, and Jenna worked in Central America with UNICEF on education projects.
Of course, the main disadvantage is that they grew up under the spotlight. Any mistake they made became front-page news the next day.
President Bush and I are very proud of Barbara and Jenna and the work they are doing.
Kelly: What made you decide to have an annual book fair on the National Mall?
Reading has been important to me my whole life. In fact, I made a career of my love of reading by becoming a teacher and librarian. I especially enjoyed reading to Jenna and Barbara when they were little, and we still share books and talk about authors.
When President Bush was governor of Texas, with the help of good friends, I founded the Texas Book Festival held in the Texas state capitol that is now in its twelfth year. That Festival was so successful and so much fun that when my husband became President, I worked with the Library of Congress to organize a National Book Festival. This year’s Festival on the National Mall on September 29 was our seventh, and I think it gets better each year.
The National Book Festival draws people from all walks of life to the National Mall to celebrate reading. Last year, more than 90,000 people attended, including Brendan Haywood of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Elmo from “Sesame Street.” This year, more than 70 renowned authors read from their works. There is something for everybody at the Festival.
Christine: You’ve obviously been very successful in life. But what do you consider your greatest disappointment, and how did you overcome it?
Let’s see. I actually have the sort of attitude that you can’t - that you shouldn’t - have a lot of regrets, or that you should accept those disappointments, what- ever they are, as part of your life, and then go on, move on, and learn from them (if there’s something to learn from a specific disappointment).
But I would say I’m disappointed that I didn’t have more children. I always envisioned that I would have a lot of children. I love kids. But, of course, I’m thrilled that I have two. George and I started late - I was 35 when I had Barbara and Jenna. And so we were especially thrilled and grateful when we got two at once. (Laughter.)
But I would say that those are the sort of disappointments I’ve had. I think for anyone, when you look back at your life, the main regrets and disappointments you might have are the things you didn’t do, not necessarily the things you did do, but the ways you passed up being a friend to someone, or stepping in in a situation where you could have made a difference but didn’t. I think those are the learning experiences that you think about later - have your most regret about.
And certainly, because as you get older you’re more aware of how quickly life can end, I think you regret the times you didn’t spend with somebody you loved when it’s too late.
Mount Vernon, Washington
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Don't stop moving forward.
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"I love you."
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Adversity causes some to break, others to break records.
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"If you wanna be a dancer dance/ In you wanna be a miner mine/ If you wanna dress like somebody else/ Fine fine fine/ Cause what the hell is wrong with expressing yourself/ And trying to be free?"
Draco: "You know they don't have dances at pigfarts."
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To be able to say "I love you" one must first be able to say "I" - Ayn Rand
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omg, all this recent light on mrs bush just makes me miss president bush soo much more. :'(
<i still love him FTW>
This was awesome.
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"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."
— John Green
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"Life is an open book, we take the journey until the end." ~Me
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