I don’t know if the program was un-partisan, bipartisan, non-partisan, or post-partisan, but last night’s uplifting presentation by Former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager left me feeling that Mrs. Bush has a lot of good work left to do in what she called “the afterlife” of a presidential couple. She is a public figure that I don’t know well, but listening to her for 90 minutes made me want to wish her a long life of service in support of causes that she has chosen to emphasize: early childhood education, empowerment of women and girls, health care for those sick with AIDS and malaria, and the value of reading (books, libraries, literacy). Absent 9/11, the atmosphere of the G. W. Bush presidency would have been quite different. She mentioned that the foreign affairs focus of her time in the White House was expected to be relations with Mexico because of what she and W. brought from their experiences in Texas.
Throughout the evening, Laura Bush charmed the audience with her straightforward and sensible remarks. Despite the joking about being interviewed by her network-news daughter, there were no inconvenient questions or challenges to her version of events. It was not meant to be that kind of night. There were asides about the chippy relationship between the media and W., but Mrs. Bush stayed on the high road. Interestingly, she cited Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson as a model for the way First Ladies can work that role in the White House. She talked at length about Mrs. Johnson as a pioneering environmentalist for her work on highway beautification and advocacy for local horticulture. With Barbara Bush, she had another close-at-hand example of a confident and effective First Lady. She spoke movingly about the risks facing women in Afghanistan and urged everyone to do whatever possible for children in need.
Congratulations to President Carole Cowan and her team at Middlesex Community College, as well as the sponsors including the presenting sponsor the TJX Companies, for 15 years of extraordinary events in the Celebrity Forum series. Their efforts have contributed to Lowell being seen again as a destination city, a capital city of culture, a place where notable people want to stop and share their stories with the public. Middlesex drew a large audience to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium for the event. The floor was filled with dinner attendees, who soon found themselves ringed by a full house in the mezzanine and balcony.