Laura Bush Touts Audacious New Principal Program

Former first lady also provides a glimpse of life after the White House

TREVOSE, PA – December 1, 2010 – Laura Bush discussed her efforts on behalf of Afghanistan women and education, the importance of volunteering and the pleasures of private life in a recent interview on ASI Radio.

“It’s gratifying to know Mrs. Bush is such a strong advocate for women and children across the globe and that her commitment to health care and education has not waned,” said Timothy M. Andrews, president and chief executive officer of ASI. “She really personified grace under pressure during critical periods of her husband’s administration and we can all learn from her example.”

To listen to the archived interview, click here.

Former first lady Laura Bush, author of the recent memoir Spoken from the Heart, spoke in advance of her free upcoming keynote at the ASI trade show in Dallas on Friday, February 18. The same day, she will also address the ASI Women’s Summit.

Here are edited excerpts from her interview on ASI Radio:

Q: What causes or projects do you plan to focus on in the next three to five years?
A: I’ll continue to work with women in Afghanistan, and on literacy and education for girls. I’ll continue to champion women’s rights across the Middle East through the Bush Institute. They’re the ones who will lead democratic movements in their countries. We also started a principal’s program that’s very audacious. We’re researching what characteristics make for a good school principal and making sure principals are armed with those characteristics, with a goal to certify half the principals in coming years. Principals are the ones who set up schools, and the way you set up schools makes a difference in a teacher’s success.

Q: Can you tell us about a moment that really hit home for you – when you knew you’d really made a difference in people’s lives?
A: I knew when George was elected I now had a podium and of course I had a great role model in Barbara Bush. I had a chance to talk about things that were important to me, like education and literacy. After 9-11, I was the first person other than a president to deliver the weekly presidential radio address, on the way women and children are treated in Afghanistan. Later, I was shopping with my daughter and a woman came up and said, “Thank you so much for speaking up for the women in Afghanistan.” It was the first time I realized the impact I could have and that people would listen to me, and it also made me realize the responsibilities I had.

Q: What was the most surprising way your life changed when you moved into the White House?
A: The thing that shocked me was how pampered our presidents are. How every single day people come to work to make sure the life of the president, his wife and family is great. And I really appreciated that. They’re who I miss the most because I became great friends with them.

Q: Any one perk you especially miss?
A: Oh sure. Of course I miss the chef. So does George.

Q: You were constantly in the public eye as first lady, and it takes a strong person to ignore criticism or negative press. What advice would you give to a businessperson who’s trying to overcome a major personal or professional challenge?
A: Keep your eye on the ball. Keep minding your business, so to speak. I think that’s what’s important to both the president and first lady, including our current president and first lady. There’s so much criticism coming at you – and of course positive support, as well. You’ve got to continue to work toward goals and not be sidetracked by criticism or other problems that come up.

Q: During your most challenging times while first lady, what were some tactics you utilized to work through difficult issues?
A: Both George and I have always tried to manage stress in our lives. It came pretty naturally. We like to go to bed early and rise early. We don’t drink – there’s lots of things that can put obstacles in your way. Try and manage stress by taking care of your own health. Make wise decisions – we all know what they are. If you’re in good physical shape it helps you a lot in trying to overcome any difficulties. You think better when you exercise and eat a healthy diet.

Q: Who exercises more?
A: He does. He’s a very disciplined athlete. I now do yoga and it’s very relaxing. I go for walks too.

Q: Young women especially need strong female role models to look up to – how have you tried to inspire your daughters to be strong women?
A: Young women today are so lucky to have such great role models, like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – and all the women just elected. I wanted Barbara and Jenna to grow up to live their own lives in ways they’d be happiest. We had a chance to travel to Africa when George was president, and afterward Barbara took a survey course at Yale on AIDS and she’s now working in global health. Jenna’s a teacher and I think she wanted to teach partly because she knew I loved teaching. There’s lots of ways mothers and fathers can help daughters grow up to be strong women.

But boys are not doing as well. There are fewer boys in college, fewer boys in graduate school. They’re more likely to be arrested, to use drugs and alcohol. It’s important to nurture boys as well as the way we’ve nurtured girls over the last decade.

Q: Why do you think all people should consider volunteering or getting involved with a cause?
A: Reaching outside yourself and volunteering to help other people gives you true satisfaction in life. I think it’s really important to start volunteering as young people and to reach out to other people. Get out of your own little world. See if you can volunteer in your closest elementary school and read to a child or work with one child who needs special help and attention.

Q: Since you’ve transitioned from life in the White House, what’s been the biggest change?
A: Having a normal life, living in our own home, on our own street, in our own neighborhood, where we can take the dog for a walk –  all things you take so much for granted but miss when you move to the White House. I really enjoy private life. I know we’ll never really be anonymous and that’s one thing you give up when you run for office. I won’t ever travel to Europe and sit in a cafe and watch people, which I might’ve in another life. But on the other hand, I had a chance to travel all over the world and meet people whose friendships we treasure.

Q: What are your favorite promotional products? Do you have any promo items in your home or office that you use every day?
A: Those special creams and oils you’re handed as you walk through cosmetic counters. Also one thing I was given in a gift bag recently was a BlackBerry by a sponsor of an event. I had not used a computer in the eight years I spent in the White House and I didn’t know a thing about BlackBerries and now, like everyone in the U.S., I have one in my hand every moment. I’m addicted to it. My daughters say “Mother, put it down when you’re talking to us.” It’s one promo product I use every day.

Q: Do you text your daughters?
A: Yes. We seldom talk on the phone anymore. We type.

The wife of George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. president, was in the White House from January 2001 to January 2009 and remains one of the nation’s most popular first ladies. During the Bush presidency, she traveled to 76 countries, including Afghanistan. She continues to be involved in early childhood education, global illiteracy, the preservation of national parks and groundbreaking programs for women worldwide.

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