The American Studies Institute (ASI) will welcome former first lady Laura Bush, wife of 43rd president George W. Bush, to Harding’s campus for the final installment of this year’s Distinguished Lecture Series on Monday, April 16. When ASI began making arrangements for its last speaker, ASI executive Director Kim Kirkman collaborated with President Bruce McLarty to choose the final lecturer of the year. Kirkman said they selected Laura Bush in hopes of educating a young audience about a time in American history many of them may not remember.
“As a former first lady, Mrs. Bush holds a lot of ideals that Harding University holds, as well as the American Studies Institute,” Kirkman said. “She lived in the White House and was the president’s wife during 9/11. In four years, we will have a whole group of students that weren’t born when 9/11 happened, so I’m glad to be bringing her to campus so she can share about some of that.”
Senior Chandler Pruitt served intermittently as Laura Bush’s personal intern, beginning in 2014 at her personal office in Dallas, Texas, where she and George W. Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which is home to the Bush Presidential Museum, Library and the George W. Bush Institute. Through her work with the Bushes, Pruitt said she found a role model in Laura Bush.
“She has been through so many incredible situations throughout history that she has handled so well, and that’s something that I have absolutely learned from Mrs. Bush, how to handle very difficult, trying and sometimes stressful situations with so much poise and composure,” Pruitt said.
During and after her time as first lady, Mrs. Bush wrote a New York Times No. 1 bestselling memoir, founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. and now serves as chair of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, where she focuses on global healthcare innovations, women’s empowerment, education reform and veterans affairs.
“They have stayed so engaged in their community and in the U.S.,” Pruitt said. “It is so admirable because it could be so easy for a presidential family to take a bit of a breather after leaving the White House, but they haven’t. I have watched both of them work so hard every day and get up early and work every day to stay involved in the community.”
Chancellor Dr. David Burks, who served as director of ASI before becoming university president in 1987, was at Harding when George H.W., Barbara and George W. Bush were a part of the ASI series.
“There has been a long established relationship,” Burks said. “They obviously were a key part of this country, so I think it’s just neat to have her here as well. She lends a perspective from a woman that I think is really important. I think students have a lot to learn from her quiet way of leading and the respectful way in which she handled her position. She exudes grace under pressure, and I think that’s what students will take away.”
The preparation for hosting a speaker of Laura Bush’s caliber is more extensive than for previous speakers. Kirkman said lists of all the employees and students involved in the event, from the ASI committee and Public Safety officers to catering staff, were sent to the Secret Service in order for background checks to be run. Public Safety officers will work with the Secret Service as security and Public Safety student workers will play a bigger role in managing seating and ticketing in the Benson. The doors will open an hour and a half in advance to allow for the extra layer of security and ticketing.
“It’s a huge step up from the events we typically have,” Kirkman said. “I hope that the audience realizes that we have the former first lady with all that she has experienced and how, just to be sitting in the audience with her and hearing her stories and about her life, how it adds to your own life when you get to hear things and be closely connected with someone like that.”
For more information about future ASI events contact Kim Kirkman or speak to a student officer.
Written by Paige Cushman and Hannah Hitchcox