Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura W. Bush addressed the 4th Annual National Leadership Forum at Southeastern University on March 12, 2010.
Despite the rain and dark skies, just a little over 700 people packed the university's relatively intimate setting - coincidentally known as "Bush Chapel" - to hear the former first couple share details of their personal and public lives before, during and after their White House years. It was a mix of humor, homespun stories, candor, historical insight, and heartfelt moments. The audience gave several standing ovations.
Mrs. Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, spoke for about 40 minutes, mostly about her passion for literacy throughout the United States and the world. "Literacy is an essential element for democracy," she said. She spoke, too, about the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, and how they profoundly changed the Bush family, all Americans and the world.
Did the relentless criticism of her husband bother her? Yes...and no. "I know who I am and I know who George is," she said, "and George was not the person you read about or saw (portrayed) on the late-night comedy shows."
Mrs. Bush drew a standing ovation when she proclaimed that her husband was steadfast in his resolve to keep America safe.
Following Mrs. Bush's presentation, Mr. Bush sat for questions from Tommy Barnett, chancellor of Southeastern University. Lasting almost 70 minutes, the Q&A focused on the Forum's theme of leadership and, more specifically, servant leadership - a concept and practice whereby people set out to be servants first, and then aspire to lead. Servant leaders achieve results by focusing on meeting the needs of the people they serve, and by developing those people to bring out the best in them. Southeastern University says it is "dedicated to the proposition that servant leaders are world changers," and encourages its students to do just that.
In that context, Mr. Bush talked about his recollection of a wide range of subjects - about his life, his family, his faith, his motives, his values, the presidency and his presidency, his retirement, and his place in history. Saying he was privileged to serve as this country's Commander-in-Chief, he recounted poignant stories of visiting U.S. military hospitals and encountering, for example, a soldier who was maimed in war. That soldier, Mr. Bush said, looked him in the eye and said with great patriotism and courage, "I'd do it again!"
Former President Bush and Mrs. Bush were not the first members of the Bush family to speak at Southeastern University. Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and brother of George W. Bush, spoke at the university in 2008.
Southeastern University is located at 1000 Longfellow Boulevard, Lakeland, Fla. For more information, call 863-667-5000 or visit the website at www.seuniversity.edu. The National Leadership Forum's website is www.seuleadershipforum.com.