Former first lady, daughter take PALS over the top

The Patricia Adams Lecture Series, which featured former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Barbara Pierce Bush, was the ultimate celebration of 10 years of inspiration, encouragement and advice that PALS has brought to Heidelberg students and the community.

For Pat Adams, who with her husband, John, ’58, envisioned, created and funded PALS back in 2009, Wednesday’s events were everything she had hoped – and so much more.

“I thought it was absolutely over-the-top amazing, terrific, outstanding,” said Pat as she and her family and friends prepared to depart for home Thursday morning. “I enjoyed every single moment.”

She was nearly brought to tears when she looked out from the stage at the packed house in Seiberling Gymnasium. One unforgettable moment, according to Pat, was meeting Laura Bush prior to the first of two sessions in Gundlach Theatre. Pat recalls that she offered her hand, but Mrs. Bush opened her arms with a Texas-sized embrace. “She just came right over and hugged me. She is such a beautiful, gracious person.”  

That beauty, grace and strong messages about the importance of education as well as learning to live in the moment carried over to the keynote addresses at the dinner. More than 500 students, faculty and staff, Adams family and friends, sponsors, local dignitaries and friends of PALS attended the dinner. Heidelberg was pleased to also welcome Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner to the event.

Life in the White House … and beyond

Laura Bush has enjoyed a fascinating and eye-opening adult life, beginning with her time as a teacher at an inner-city school, proceeding to her meeting and marrying the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, and her service as First Lady.

She updated the audience about the Bush family that lost patriarch President George H. W. Bush last November and matriarch Barbara Bush seven months earlier. “They led with love and grace, and in Bar’s case, a quick wit,” Mrs. Bush said. “George and I believe that his parents showed us the way to age with grace … to enjoy life, enjoy what you have and enjoy it to the fullest. All we have is now.”

When she became first lady in 2001, Mrs. Bush was charged with discovering her identity in that role. She was asked what former first lady she wanted to emulate. Knowing she didn’t want to be the stereotypical quiet, dutiful first lady who keeps her opinions to herself, she said, “I think I’ll just be Laura Bush, because I know her very well,” she said. 

One opinion she was willing to share was this: “Every child deserves a quality education, and a safe and healthy childhood.” She took on that issue as a major platform of her time as first lady. 

Guided by a lifelong passion for reading, she knows the power of books to shape a generation. As the first lady, she said she met young people in challenging circumstances all over the world as well as here at home. Her teaching job taught her that it’s a difficult challenge to reach into the lives of every child and make a difference, but the effort is necessary.

“Young people need us in their lives. They need to know their value, that we believe in them, that their success matters,” Mrs. Bush said.

Today, the former president and Mrs. Bush devote time to working at the Bush Presidential Center and Libraries on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She continues chair of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, which works to promote education, healthcare and economic opportunity for women around the world. They are proud parents and grandparents, too.

One person can make a difference

In her remarks, Barbara Pierce Bush spoke about her role in co-founding the Global Health Corps, which mobilizes young leaders to build the movement for health equity in the U.S. and around the world. The idea crystalized, she said, when she was 21 and traveling the world with her parents. 

“It was harrowing to see people in the streets, waiting for medicines that are easily accessible here at home,” Ms. Pierce Bush said. Encountering a mother and her sick child, she understood the privilege of being born healthy and into a family where education was a given. “That child was just born in the wrong place at the wrong time. … I was struck in that moment. I wanted to make sure that where you are born doesn’t dictate where you live,” she said.

That was the impetus for her commitment to make a difference in solving global health issues. Ten years ago, she and six others, united in their belief that health is a human right, came together to form the Global Health Corps. Together, they have made great strides in some Third World countries such as Malawi, where GHC leaders helped to dramatically reduce the number of HIV-positive babies born in the village of Machinga.

Those initial GHC difference makers and the thousand that have followed “look like a lot of the students here today,” she said. Sharing success stories about some of the young people who came on board is testament that “young people can make an impact,” she said.

“The more great talent we have solving these types of problems, the more solutions we’ll get. But it requires a very different way of thinking.”

Ms. Pierce Bush believes that in 20 years, “We will see a dramatic improvement in health issues around the world.” It’s incumbent upon young leaders “to step up to create the world they want to see.”

10 years in the making

For Heidelberg, this PALS event was something special. Ten years in the making, it capped off a series of speakers who have been phenomenal in so many ways. President Rob Huntington noted in his remarks that discussions about having the former first lady as a PALS speaker began in earnest about 3-1/2 years ago and ramped up about a year ago.

The PALS Selection Committee, chaired by Dr. Susan McCafferty, and the PALS Logistics Committee, led by Ashley Helmstetter, spent months making preparations for an event that exceeded expectations.

“This event was more than we could have ever imagined,” Susan said. “Mrs. Bush and Ms. Barbara Pierce Bush are great public servants and it was our honor to host them.”

View photo gallery of PALS

Watch President Huntington talk about PALS impact on WNWO broadcast

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