The Valdosta Daily Times
In her speech Thursday during the Georgia Christian School 2012 Benefit Dinner, former First Lady Laura Bush advocated reaching out to a child through a reading lesson, or with a tender smile, or an encouraging word.
Such a small act, she said, could change a child’s world and change a child’s life.
But she didn’t just talk the talk, Laura Bush walked the walk.
Prior to her scheduled speech, the First Lady visited Georgia Christian School, reading to kindergarten through fifth-grade students from her and daughter Jenna’s children’s book, “Read All About It!” Though Bush read to the children, the one-time school librarian and second-, third- and fourth-grade teacher interacted with the youngsters page by page.
Based on her one-time students who imagined “Charlotte’s Web” characters coming to life, Laura Bush’s book is the story of a student who hates to read but discovers a fascinating world of imagination in books and the library. “Read All About It!” also offers rules of classroom behavior for children and suggests other children’s books to read.
As she listed such books as “Clifford,” “Curious George,” “Frog and Toad Together,” “Goosebumps,” and “Charlotte’s Web,” Bush asked the students if they have read these books. Differing numbers of GCS students raised their hands for each book. When Bush mentioned Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” every child raised a hand.
“Read All About It!” has a snow scene. “Do ya’ll ever get any snow?” the First Lady asked. “No,” the children replied in one voice. She led the children in a verse and chorus of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” during one portion of the book.
Following the reading, she took students’ questions and listened to their comments. She explained that her husband, George W. Bush, was once President and that his father, George H.W. Bush, had also once served as President. She shared how she and Jenna had hidden their family’s birthdays within different numbers in the book. She mentioned the family pets that lived in the White House.
The children’s questions lingered on the pets. One child expressed an interest in writing and Bush asked him if he would like to write a book some day with his mother. One small child said, “When your husband was President, I was too little to remember.”
Georgia Christian School students Bailey Warren and Jake Kilcrease presented the First Lady with a GCS book to commemorate her visit. The First Lady presented GCS librarian Rosemary Jackson with a personalized copy of “Read All About It!” and a second copy dedicated to the school library.
She listened to each child’s question then took photos with each grade of children in the Georgia Christian School
In an interview with The Times, Laura Bush says she keeps busy traveling to various educational institutions across the nation. She loves visiting classrooms and meeting with students.
She travels to schools while husband George W. Bush often travels to speaking engagements with fellow former President Bill Clinton. Though Bush was a Republican President and Clinton a Democratic one, she says the two men get along well. “It’s not a debate,” she laughed.
She and President Bush also have been preparing for the April 2013 opening of his Presidential Library in Texas. She also discussed her husband’s year at Moody Air Force Base where he earned his wings. “He was talking about his time here this morning before I left,” she told The Times Thursday afternoon.
In her GCS 2012 Benefit Dinner, she shared how her husband had troubles learning to stall his plane at 30,000 feet. “His instructor could smell insecurity,” she said of George W. Bush’s Moody training, “and his instructor didn’t believe in quiet counseling.”
In kicking off the dinner, GCS Headmaster Brad Lawson said the First Lady had listeners of all ages “enthralled” as she read her book at the school earlier in the day.
Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle introduced Laura Bush as “one of the most beloved and admired of America’s First Ladies.” He referred to her many accomplishments as First Lady, visiting 76 countries, which included two solo trips to Afghanistan. He also noted her dedication in founding the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival.
In her speech, Laura Bush shared details from her family. Father-in-law George H.W. Bush turned 88 this past summer. Mother-in-law Barbara Bush is in good health and as “feisty and funny” as ever. Daughter Jenna is married and works for NBC’s Today Show as a correspondent. Daughter Barbara has founded the Global Health Corps.
As for the former President and herself, she shared that they have tried to return to a normal life in their four years since leaving the White House.
“When you’re married to the President of the United States, you don’t have to worry about picking up his wet towels off the floor,” she said. “But when you’re in Midland, Texas …”
She says she has referred to the post-presidency as “the afterlife,” while he refers to leaving Washington, D.C., for Texas as living in the promised land.
Though she shared that comment as an aside, she spoke of educational institutions such as GCS as being an educational promise land.
She extolled Georgia Christian’s academic excellence as well as its dedication to keeping the Christian faith.
“Thanks to Georgia Christian School, your students are prepared to be used for God’s work in all parts of life,” Laura Bush said. “… Any definition of a successful life must include service to others.”
She mentioned her husband’s call for Americans to help one another, adding that GCS students have risen to this challenge in many ways.
The First Lady spoke of her own efforts to meet such challenges as a young teacher. Inspired by the civil rights movement, she took a teaching position in an inner-city school.
“I wanted to help those children,” she said. “I wanted to reach into their world and change their lives.”
Bush shared one poignant story of taking youngsters on a field trip. At one house, the group arrived and the 9-year-old boy answered the door in his underwear. His mother would not come to the door to give her permission for him to attend the trip. Laura Bush had to leave him behind. It broke her heart.
Through the years, she has thought of that young boy. She has wondered what happened to him. He would be in his 50s now, she estimated. Did he survive? Did he succeed in life? Is he a proud father standing in an airport awaiting the return of a child in the military? Is he a tired soul holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road?
Laura Bush, the former First Lady, a woman married to a man who was once the most powerful person in the world, said she long ago dedicated her life to the memory of driving away from that poor child standing alone in his doorway. She has dedicated herself to doing all she can to positively change the lives of children.