By Angela Abbamonte
Donors, faculty, students and friends of Union University made their way to the Carl Perkins Civic Center, Tuesday, Oct. 19, to hear an address by Laura Bush infused with passion for education and insight into the nation.
The former first lady spoke at the 13th annual Scholarship Banquet, sharing memories from her time in the White House and communicating the importance of reading and learning.
“One of our first presidents, John Adams, knew that education was vital for the development of our country and for the development of our character,” Bush said. “He once said, ‘There are two educations: one should teach us how to make a living and the other should teach us how to live.’”
Union has delivered both of these kinds of education since its founding in 1823, Bush said, and the money donated for tickets to the banquet will allow more students to come to Union through scholarships. This year about 1,700 people attended the event, bringing in $600,000 for scholarships with some donors giving more than $15,000 to the university.
Bush recognized the audience’s curiosity and appeased the crowd with a report on her family.
George W. Bush’s presidency ended two years ago, and since then the couple has been working on a memorial library, spending time with her in-laws — former president George H. W. and Barbara Bush — and continuing her campaigns for education.
“After many adventures, we are back home in Texas living what I call ‘the afterlife’ in a state George calls ‘the promised land,’” Bush said.
While she said the media may have portrayed her as a “simple-minded” woman reminiscent of a 1950s housewife in the past, Bush came out to speak on her opinions of education and international women’s rights.
“Every child in America should learn to read,” Bush said. “Literacy is at the central foundation for democracy. I know from my own experience as a reader and librarian that books have the power not just to move people as individuals, but to shape our journey as a nation.”
Three days before the attacks of 9/11, Laura Bush was launching into the goals she set for herself as the wife of the president. The first National Book Festival was held that Sept. 8, an event that brought 30,000 writers and readers together.
Life would drastically change a few days later when the nation was attacked, and while her husband’s role became more difficult than ever expected, Laura Bush continued to support education.
“For me, reading is not just a cause I selected as first lady,” she said, “it’s one of the guiding passions of my life.”
Her passion for education bled over into her passion for women, especially those in countries with limited women’s rights.
“Women play a vital role in affecting health, education and prosperity worldwide,” Bush said. “By giving women access to education and health care, they not only improve the well-being of their own families, but of their communities and their countries, as well.”
She went on to explain the importance of education for women in countries, such as Afghanistan, where women are often suppressed because of their gender. Bush agreed with the sentiment of women around the world she had met who said that “half a democracy is not a democracy,” and women need the same rights as men in order for democratic governments to work.
Union has hosted the scholarship banquet for 13 years to raise funds for student scholarships. Former keynote speakers include Condoleezza Rice and George H. W. Bush.
“I want to thank each and every one of you today,” Bush said. “Thank you for joining us all tonight. Thank you for your support because you mean that a lot more Union students will have scholarships.”