For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 24, 2002
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Twanna Powell Lecture Series
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
I just toured the new "Father and Son" exhibit in the Bush Library, and once again I am reminded of what a tremendous resource the Library is for the people of Texas and for all Americans.
When President John Adams' biographer David McCullough was here recently, he said he pondered what Adams might have thought of a library containing items from his presidency: his chair, his documents, and the like. McCullough said Adams would likely think it would be wonderful if Americans could have such firsthand knowledge of him, our second president.
Texas A&M is a worthy custodian of this living collection of American history.
President Bush and I are the temporary custodians of one of America's favorite repositories of history, the White House. We are literally surrounded by tangible reminders of our nation's Presidents and their families.
Imagine waking up in the same house that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln called home.
The White House has been the site of occasions both joyous and somber for the families who lived there. For my family, the days and weeks that followed September 11th were among the most difficult that we have ever faced.
It seems that every generation has its own "day of infamy" that none would ever forget. For my parents' generation, that day was December 7, 1941, when our nation was shocked by the early morning attack on Pearl Harbor.
For my generation, the day was November 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on a street in downtown Dallas.
I was a senior at Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, Texas and was sitting in a classroom when we learned the President had been killed. I remember it as a terrible blow. It was almost too much to bear; a sudden reminder at a young age of how fragile life is.
On September 11, we experienced another one of those days in our national life - a day that will be forever seared in our hearts and minds.
Since that day, though, I have seen many examples of kindness and compassion in America - in our communities, and especially in our children who have helped make a difference in remarkable ways.
A 12-year-old Texan named Olivia, who is in remission from cancer, heard that President Bush had established America's Fund for Afghan Children, and she wanted to do her share to help.
Olivia, it turns out, has an incredible gift for painting that she discovered during a year and a half of chemotherapy. By age 11, Olivia was featured in her first solo exhibit. Since then she has sold hundreds of original paintings.
For Afghan children, Olivia painted a picture titled "Let Freedom Bloom" and published it as a limited edition print. The picture is a red rose with petals in full bloom. Two of the many petals are striped red and white, and one petal is painted blue with white stars. She pledged all of the proceeds from the prints to America's Fund for Afghan Children. So far, Olivia has raised $33,000 dollars for the Fund.
Patriotism swept across Texas, and across Kyle Field one Saturday in late September after the attacks. Here, a hand-full of Aggies convinced 70,000 football fans to trade in the team colors and instead buy a red, white, or blue shirt, depending on their stadium seat level.
Fans responded, and the result was an incredible display of America's colors in the stadium - showing that we are Americans first and foremost. In that one day, A&M students raised about $200,000 for the New York Firefighters 911 Relief Fund and the WTC Police Disaster Relief Fund.
From a single little girl to tens of thousands of football fans, Americans have proven time and again what it means to be generous and patriotic citizens of the greatest country in the world.
The attacks made many of us reassess our priorities and our values. Rather than fear death, we embrace life -- life that now seems more precious, more meaningful than before that tragic September day. We are a kinder nation. We are opening our hearts to strangers and our doors to our neighbors.
One of America's favorite neighbors, Fred Rogers, from the PBS children's show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, spoke at the White House recently. He asked the audience to take 10 seconds to think of someone who has had a major, positive impact on their lives.
I thought about my mother and my teacher, Mrs. Gnagy, both of whom helped make me the person I am today. My mother taught me from an early age to love reading and the outdoors. And Mrs.Gnagy's example convinced me that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Both are still powerful influences in my life.
Today I ask you who are the powerful influences in your life?
Some of you might remember when you were in second grade and your teacher asked you to draw a picture of someone or something you wanted to be when you grew up. Think about what you drew: firefighters, police officers, athletes, doctors, astronauts, teachers or sometimes even a president.
These are people whose actions make them heroes, and that's why children draw them. They want to be heroes like them.
But you don't have to walk into a burning building or wear a badge to rescue someone.
You don't have to score a touchdown to win points with someone. You don't have to go medical school to help a person feel better. You don't have to walk on the moon to change this earth and you don't have to sign a bill to change your state or country.
Kindness and heroism can't always be drawn in a picture. Many acts of kindness never make the evening news or the morning paper. But some do - like A&M's "Big Event," which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with nearly 7,000 student volunteers. And that volunteer spirit is contagious. What was started by six Aggies has become a tradition for thousands of students at nearly 40 other colleges and universities across the country.
I salute you for that.
In his State of the Union Address, my husband President Bush called on every American to dedicate at least two years - or 4,000 hours over your lifetime - to serving your neighbors and nation.
Four thousand hours may seem like a lot of time, but consider this: If we were to set aside one day for each victim of September 11th, to honor and remember each of them, it would take us about eight and a half years to complete our days of remembrance.
We can honor the lives lost by making our lives count even more. I urge you to use the energy you have at this time in your life to help someone else.
Consider joining the USA Freedom Corps. The Freedom Corps coordinates programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, the new Citizen Corps, Learn and Serve America, and the Senior Corps.
In Pennsylvania, one young Peace Corps volunteer said, "for a lot of people, the world is a terribly big place, but for those of us who have served in the Peace Corps, the world is a large planet made up of communities."
To learn more about these efforts and the USA Freedom Corps, you can visit the website: (www.usafreedomcorps.gov).
You can serve America in other ways. You can volunteer in a local school, or choose a career in teaching. Over the next decade, American schools will need more than two million new teachers. We've come up with a few ways to bring more talented people into America's classrooms. I'm supporting three efforts:
I can't think of a better cause than bringing many more excellent teachers into America's schools. Teaching is challenging and difficult, yet it's deeply rewarding. The education we provide our children helps shape the way they think and learn throughout their entire lives. And reaching just one child makes a huge difference.
Texas author John Erickson, who writes the "Hank the Cowdog" series, credits his 12th grade English teacher, Annie Love, for inspiring his writing abilities. One of her assignments changed his life. It was to write an original poem.
John said, "I'd never written one before, but I found it was easy for me. So instead of writing one, I wrote five. She told me that they were beautiful and to write some more.
"So I started writing poems for her at night instead of doing my chemistry, math and other homework. By the end of the semester I'd made a book out of them. I made the wooden book binding in my wood shop, and I gave it to her at the end of the year. I guess you could say it was my first book."
A word of praise transformed a student into a young writer who grew up to become an award-winning author. Kindness is a mighty thing.
I would be remiss if I did not say that one of the kindest people I know is my father-in-law, George H. W. Bush, whom we call 41, or Gampy.
Thank you, Gampy and Ganny, for all that you have done to make life better for Americans. The world is truly a better place because of you.
We are fortunate to live in a time of great awakening a time of realizing what it means to live in this incredible country, and how good it feels to give something back to this place we call home.
News correspondent Harry Smith spent years watching and interviewing volunteers from around the country.
In one of his articles, he wrote that the essence of volunteerism is " the understanding that one person's contribution, no matter how humble, does make a difference.
"It's the realization that even in life's daily travails we need each other - neighbor helping neighbor. And (volunteering) is a way to say thank you for the privilege of living in our remarkable country."
We are a different country than we were on September 10th. We will not forget the images and events -- the photos and front pages -- of the past seven months. I've seen people helping strangers; I've seen strangers becoming heroes; I've seen this country at its best. Americans are proud; Americans are united; and Americans care about others. That's what I see on our college campuses, and that's what I see from coast to coast.
Thank you God bless Texas A&M, and God bless America.
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