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First Lady Laura Bush This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




Join the Discussion


This article has 16 comments. Post your own!

Ariana W. said...
Nov. 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm:
Awesome article!
 
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BlackHoleHighAlumniThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm:
Laura Bush AND pres. Bush are two of my heroes. Don't act like Laura Bush and Pres. Bush have such different outlooks on life. If you say pity about her husband, it means you've never taken the time to research his outlooks on life, religion or American government. I'm sure you'll find they are quite similar to Mrs. Bush's.
 
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Chacharoo said...
Oct. 5, 2010 at 11:22 pm:
I miss the Bushes in the White House. She is an amazing woman, I have great respect and admiration from her. That is great! You guys are so lucky to have met her.
 
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Skatergirl51 said...
Jul. 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm:
I really miss the Bush administration. I admire president Bush and Laure Bush so much! I really miss them. I wish people would give president Bush more credit for the things he did. He really deserves to be treated with a lot more respect.
 
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soletmar said...
Jun. 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm:
wow. she seems fine, if only her husband was a bit more.... well everything. i do, however, disagree with one thing she said. my little sister hates to read BECAUSE i love it so much. its basically that she feels the need to differentiate herself from me. personally i believe in soul books, like soul mates. once you found it you cant stop. for me, it was harry potter. hahaha
 
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Jose4Jesus said...
May 4, 2010 at 6:33 am:

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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AnneOnnimous said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm:
she seems nice. Pity about her husband
 
Runner replied...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 11:50 am :
Thank you so much.
 
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Joyfulnoise13 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 23, 2009 at 9:49 pm:
I can tell from this interview she's a classy lady. I miss the Bush administration.
 
SilverAngel replied...
Oct. 18, 2009 at 8:57 am :
Good job! I think you put a lot of work into it and she did also with answering!
 
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Marty C. said...
Jun. 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm:
Laura Bush is really lame.
 
crawfordkid This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm :
Wow, way to express yourself with tact and sophistication.
 
soletsdanceThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. replied...
Nov. 18, 2010 at 9:36 am :
:P      
 
scarper94 replied...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 10:39 am :
I wish i could like comments. crawfordkid <3
 
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HOPEMVP said...
Mar. 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm:
Laura Bush ROCKS!
 
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Stef said...
Jan. 22, 2009 at 10:12 pm:
I have such a great respect for Laura Bush! She is so aware of what the values are in life and how to make a difference in not only her own, but many other lives! Thank-you so much Mrs. Bush for making small things matter!
 
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