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Laura Bush recalls 9/11

Former first lady speaks at GSU

Laura Bush recalls 9/11

Laura Bush recalls 9/11

Former first lady Laura Bush speaks T...

It’s Jan. 20, 2001.

The nation watches as former Texas Gov. George W. Bush takes the oath of office to become the 43rd U.S. president. His wife, Laura Bush, watches as he is sworn in as president, and she is first lady.

Their new home, the White House, was very familiar. They had spent time in it during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, George W.’s father and Laura’s father-in-law, from 1989 to 1993. And Barbara Bush served as a role model for Laura Bush to refer to when she was trying to define her role as first lady.

It was a happy time for George W. and Laura Bush.

“When George was elected president, we believed that the challenges facing the country from within were going to be more urgent than those from without,” Laura Bush told a packed Hanner Fieldhouse on Georgia Southern University’s campus Tuesday evening.

One of the happiest days of her time as first lady was Saturday, Sept. 8, 2011. It was the first National Book Festival, an event she started as part of her focus on literacy and modeled after one she had started in Texas while she was that state’s first lady. More than 30,000 people turned out to the Library of Congress.

“That was probably the last weekend a group of people could participate in an event like that without nervously turning their heads to see who was behind them or to look up to the sky,” she said.

The defining moment of her husband’s presidency — and of the nation in this century — came three days later.

“I remember on Tuesday morning, I was on my way to Capitol Hill when a Secret Service agent leaned over to me and said, ‘A plane has hit the World Trade Center,’” she said.

That night, husband and wife bunkered in a room far below the White House. The furnishings were “Spartan,” she said, and “looked like they dated to Harry Truman,” drawing a laugh from the audience.

From then on, George W. Bush’s mission was set: lead the nation in the War on Terror. The spotlight quickly turned to Afghanistan, which was believed to be a refuge for Osama bin Laden. It also gave Laura Bush another voice besides promoting literacy.

“We saw a country where women and girls were not allowed to be educated,” she said. “It was shocking for me and the nation.”

She gave the weekly presidential radio address in November 2001 and described the plight of girls and women in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. A few days later, she and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager, who then was Jenna Bush and a freshman at the University of Texas, were shopping in a department store.

“The woman at the counter said, ‘Thank you for speaking about the women in Afghanistan,’” Bush said. “That’s when I realized that people do listen to the first lady, and that she does have a platform, if she chooses to use it.”

Bush encouraged all students — but especially the women — to have children and enjoy family life, but also to pick a career they enjoy and work hard at it.

“Family life with children is one of the great experiences of life,” she said. “And work is very important. Working very hard is what you can do to make life very fulfilling.”

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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