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WC Remembers Barbara Bush

  • Former First Lady Barbara Bush spoke at Washington College in January 1999.
    Former First Lady Barbara Bush spoke at Washington College in January 1999.
April 18, 2018
Former First Lady Barbara Bush, 92, died on April 17. Many Washington College alumni, faculty, and staff will never forget her visit to the College in 1999 with her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, when they both received honorary Doctor of Public Service degrees. And her words to the students of 1999 ring just as true to the students of today.

In January 1999, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush visited Washington College for a special Convocation that was part of a series of events marking the 200th anniversary of the death of George Washington. Then-College President John Toll conferred upon each of them the honorary degree Doctor of Public Service. 

With her trademark wit, grace, and intelligence,  the former First Lady addressed the faculty, staff, and students on that occasion. Her advice for students is as timely today as it was then. Following are her remarks:

Let me first thank President Toll for those kind words, as well as the Board of Visitors and Governors for this degree—which I appreciate more than you know. Being invited to receive a degree with a renowned, Nobel-Prize winning scientist like Dr. James Watson—to say nothing of the greatest President in the world (whoops—forgot where I am—better make that the second-greatest President)—being here with these two distinguished leaders, I kinda feel like the mule that was invited to run in the Kentucky Derby. I’m a little out of my league.

But George and I are pleased to be here with all of you at Washington College, and pleased, too, to help you kick off this yearlong celebration of George Washington’s life. His was surely an extraordinary life, and it struck me that there are several similarities between your George and my George. For instance, both were war heroes; both served as President of the United States; and both are recognized for their integrity as men of true honor.

But as many of you know, only my George has jumped out of an airplane at 12,500 feet. George doesn’t like me to mention his skydiving exploits because he thinks it’s bragging. Well, I don’t mention it to brag—I just think he’s nuts.

Some of you may already be aware that the podium from which we are speaking with you today is a new one constructed from the historic Washington College Elm, which was so beloved it lives on as the namesake for your school paper, The Elm. But because this is a new podium, I’m going to go easy on it by sharing just a few brief thoughts, particularly for the students.

The first is that you should go immediately to your teachers and administrators and thank them for the work they do everyday to help educate your minds. You should thank your lucky stars for the opportunities that you have, and that many others don’t.

As a longtime advocate of family literacy, I meet people every day who struggle and sacrifice to learn how to read and who will tell you that you can’t put a price on a good education. The opportunities you have here to learn from such dedicated people is a wonderful blessing, and I hope you are taking full advantage of it. Look at it this way: You can’t spend every waking moment at the Cove.

Second, value your friends. They are your most valuable asset.

Third, whatever you do, make sure you enjoy life. Life is supposed to have joy. It’s supposed to be fun. When you decide to do something, you have a decision to make. You can either enjoy what you do, or hate it. I choose to love what I do, and recommend others to do the same.

Fourth, I hope the students of Washington College will get involved in trying to help solve the big challenges of your day. Remember: The real satisfaction of work comes when we work for a cause that is bigger than ourselves. As my favorite President often says, “From now on in America, any definition of a successful life must include service to others.” He’s right.

One thing is certain: Here at Washington College, you have a wide variety of wonderful community service organizations to choose from and to help out. Groups like Big Brother/Big Sister, Peer Educators, and certainly the Hands Out volunteer center. But my favorite organization has to be your B.U.S.H. group, Beautification Using Student Help, which works to keep your campus looking clean and pretty.

Finally, no matter how tough the going may get sometimes, never give up on yourself. Learn to persevere. Try to be like the missionary, who was sitting in a small corner restaurant reading a letter delivered from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new twenty-dollar bill caught her attention. Needless to say, she was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter, her eyes were distracted by the movement of a raggedly dressed man on the sidewalk leaning against a light post in front of the building. She couldn’t get his peculiar condition and stature off her mind. Thinking that he might have greater financial need than she might, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned, “persevere.” Leaving the restaurant, she nonchalantly dropped the envelope at the stranger’s feet. Turning slowly, he picked it up, read it, watched the woman walk away, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went his way. The next day walking down the street, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were for, he replied: That’s the money you won, lady. Persevere paid five to one!”

I can’t guarantee rewards, but a successful fruitful life.

Thank you, again, for this degree, which I will treasure.  Good luck to you all.


Last modified on Apr. 18th at 10:15am by Taylor Fields.