Laura Bush

High Point University Commencement Address - May 5, 2012

Laura Bush
May 05, 2012— High Point, North Carolina
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Thank you very much. Thank you, all of you and thank you Dr. Qubein for that very nice introduction. Thanks, everybody. Thank you all.

Megan, thank you for your thoughtful remarks on behalf of your class and congratulations to you. Congratulations to the two distinguished faculty members, Professor Shore and Professor Simpson, for the awards that you received today. Thank you to all of the distinguished faculty, to the Board of Trustees, the alumni, the parents and the families for your very warm welcome.

Most of all, thank you and congratulations to the High Point University class of 2012. [applause] I'm thrilled to be with you for this very happy day.

Members of the class of 2012, you represent nearly 75 different majors, 14 states and six countries. But tomorrow you'll be unified by one distinction – you'll all be graduates of High Point University, and that's an accomplishment worthy of celebration. You can see it in the faces of your parents. They're happy and they're proud of you, and we congratulate your parents and families and teachers whose love and support brought you to this happy day.

One thing I've learned from being a parent is that it's irresistible for people my age to offer advice and it's impossible for people your age to pay any attention to it, so I promise I'll tread lightly today and I won't lecture you about what you should do with your lives after graduation. Besides, if your life turns out anything like mine it won't go exactly according to plan – and that's a good thing.

As I reflected on what to say to you, I remembered my own graduation from SMU in 1968. It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Young people were questioning the values of their elders, and the United States was struggling against the spread of communism. Today the Cold War is long over, we've elected an African-American as president of the United States and there are more democracies in the world than ever before, many of those former communist countries.

Though you can't know what the coming years will bring, I assure you that they'll bring progress and change and that you'll be a part of it, just as my class of 1968 was part of what's occurred over the last 40 years.

The commencement speaker at my graduation was Dr. Willis Tate, president of SMU, and he probably called us to greatness but I don't remember what much of what he said. I just remember how I felt relieved that finals were finally over, excited to embark on the next adventure and impatient for him to finish.

So then I reflected on the speech when I received my master's degree. I couldn't recall who gave that commencement address. That's because I skipped the ceremony, but I did look it up and you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was some guy named George Bush. Four years after that speech, I married his son.

In 40 years you may not remember who spoke at your graduation, but I know you'll have many memories of your time at High Point University. Even as you go to new places, you'll discover that you never truly leave a place that you love and no matter where you go or how long it's been since your graduation, returning to this place will feel like coming home.

One of our nation's first presidents, John Adams, knew that education was vital for the development of our country and for the development of our character. He once said there too education one should teach us how to make a living and the other should teach us how to live.

Since its founding in 1924, High Point University has taught students both. When the doors opened at High Point College, 122 students attended classes taught by nine faculty members in just three buildings. Today, more than 4,000 students learn from several hundred faculty members in 40 buildings all across this gorgeous campus.

Many things have changed over the last century, but the core values that guide this school have not. High Point University remains dedicated to giving students an extraordinary education that prepares them to live lives of significance in our increasingly global world.

Cass of 2012, your four years of college are short in the scope of your whole life, but what you learn here will be influential for the rest of your life. During your time at High Point, you learn from your academic discoveries, from your disappointments and your triumphs, and from the friends you cherish.

Some of the first people you met during orientation four years ago are now your best friends, and they'll be your best friends long after you leave. The friends I met in college are still some of my best friends today.

Some of the most important lessons – the ones that will guide you through life – are less tangible. Maybe it was something that was said during first-year seminar or an especially compelling professor, or maybe it was what you saw while serving overseas in a High Point alternative break program. Whatever it is, you know you've matured since those first days of orientation four years ago, and the next chapter of your life has been shaped by the time here at a High Point University.

I can't raise much of my life's work to my college experiences. I remember many of my favorite professors, including my favorite literature professor Dr. Harriet Earhart, who's still a friend of mine. Her children's literature class inspired me to become a librarian. The books I read in her class I later read the children in my own classrooms and the children in the classrooms I've visited across our country and around the world.

When I graduated from SMU, I wanted what I to do what I could for the Civil Rights Movement, so I requested to teach in an inner city minority school. I wanted to work with children who'd been left out and too often left behind simply because of the color of their skin, but I wasn't prepared for the poverty I encountered in an inner-city Houston school. Most of the students lived on narrow side streets behind the school building. Some were hungry, and they would come to school in the morning with their bellies rumbling and ravenously attacked the free breakfast and lunch that we gave them. I wanted to help those children so badly to reach into their lives and somehow make a difference, but it was an uphill fight.

Before I left my job in Houston to go to graduate school, I invited a few of my favorite students to Astroworld, an amusement park near the old Houston baseball stadium. I called their parents and I coordinated a date for the trip. That day we picked up several eager kids, but when we came to the last house, the little boy who was supposed to go with us opened the door in his underwear. Though we could hear his mother in the back of the house, she never came to the door to allow him to come with us and so we had no choice but to leave him there. All I could do was give him a goodbye hug with an extra squeeze and leaving there standing, watching us all drive off to Astroworld without him.

As much as any generation of Americans, the class of 2012 is tasked with resolving challenges that lie far beyond your doorsteps, even far beyond America's borders. Between cell phones and the Internet, there's a world of information literally at our fingertips. Because our world is so small, we can't ignore the earthquakes in Japan or Indonesia or the suffering of AIDS patients in Africa.

For you, today begins a period of incredible liberty and adventure, a time to fall it find your calling and demand the most from life before a life makes specific demands on you. As you face this new chapter of your life, I can tell you one thing for certain – you won't waste your talents and education if you use them to help people.

A very wise man – my father-in-law, President Bush – said any definition of a successful life must include service to others. That principle governed not only his life but his children's and grandchildren's as well. In his 2002 State of the Union address, my husband, President George W. Bush, asked every American to dedicate two years or four thousand hours over the rest of their lives to help their neighbors in need.

The class of 2012 has already answered that call in significant ways, and you know that service and civic involvement are central to the lessons that you learned here at High Point. High Point students volunteer more than 30,000 hours each year, and last year you raised more than $100,000 for local, national and international causes. These funds are helping to build homes for Habitat for Humanity and raising awareness about diabetes. And by thinking pink, you've contributed funds to find a cure for breast cancer. Many of you participated annually in alternative break trips to help those that need to here at home and abroad.

This year you spent your break helping people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, rebuild from the devastating tornadoes, you provided clean drinking water to families in Guatemala and you worked with deaf students in Nicaragua. All year long you tutored students in after-school programs and you distributed food and clothing to the homeless. You hosted blood drives to help hundreds of people in need.

Now as you leave High Point University, you'll find that there's so many needs to be met in so many more ways you can help. You may choose to wear work in the health care field. You may choose to serve in uniform in the military or out of uniform with the Peace Corps. Or you may choose to run for public office to serve your local community or state or country.

Many of you – 14 percent of you – have already chosen serve by pursuing careers in education. Thanks to each of you who've chosen to teach. You'll find teaching to be one of the most challenging jobs, but I know you'll also find it to be one of the most rewarding.

The great American historian and writer Henry Adams once wrote, "A teacher affects eternity. He could never tell where his influence stops." That's a weighty responsibility, but it's one of the best parts about teaching – being surprised by the effect you have on your students. Sometimes the child everyone in town has pegged as a lifelong jokester goes on to do something great thanks to his teachers. He might even become president of the United States.

Over the years, I've often wondered what became of that little nine-year-old boy in Houston who didn't get to go to Astroworld. He'd be in his 50s now. What happened to him, I ask myself sometimes. Is he still alive? Did he manage to escape that dilapidated house in Houston with the mother who wouldn't come to the door? Did he find another teacher who cared about him? Did he graduate from a high school or even college and find a job where he was valued? Is he standing in an airport right now, a proud father anxiously waiting for the plane that will bring his son or daughter home at last from Afghanistan? Or is he standing instead by the highway with a cardboard sign or sitting by himself in a joyless empty room wondering how it all turned out this way?

So as you leave High Point University, whether you plan to teach or pursue another path of service, my challenge to you is really the same challenge I've given myself – to never forget that little boy, to never forget that one trip, to ask one reading lesson, one consoling touch, one friendly smile, one check written, or one busy hour given to someone who needs you. These are the things that quite literally can make all the difference in the world.

Whatever you choose to do, don't be afraid to take risk or change course. When George and I started out in Midland, Texas, we were ready for a nice, quiet, normal life. Five years later we had twins. Ten years later we were living in Washington, D.C., helping George's father get elected president. Fifteen years later we were in Dallas where George was running the Texas Rangers baseball team. Twenty years later, we were in Austin when George was governor. Twenty-five years later, we were in the White House in a nation changed by the attacks of September 11. Thirty years later, we were finishing a second term. For number 35, we plan to be in Dallas but you never know.

It wasn't the life we expected, but the twists and turns along the way gave it meaning and richness and value. I know the same will be true for you

Congratulations to each one of you. Thank you for giving me this chance to share this special day with you. May God bless the class of 2012.