the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

George W. Bush to Arkansas Students: Think About Teaching

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El DORADO, Ark. — It’s not everyday a former president — George W. Bush — speaks to a high school in a quaint Southern town like El Dorado.

On Thursday, Bush popped into the oil town of 21,000 as a favor to his old pal, Madison Murphy, a member of the wealthy Murphy Oil family and a Republican Party supporter.
In anticipation of Bush’s second visit here, city leaders planted flowers, filled potholes, and put out welcome signs. The event? Academic Signing Day for the El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program started and endowed by the Murphy Oil Corp.
The scholarship program is one of the most unusual in the country – a private foundation supports a public school. It provides every El Dorado High School senior who qualifies academically — 250 this year — with up to 100 percent tuition and mandatory college fees to any two- or four-year college or university in the United States. Since its inception in 2007, it has given more than $3.6 million to 563 graduates.
Bush flew into the town’s small airport on a private jet provided by the Murphy family. When his motorcade passed the school, students waved and the former president gave them a thumbs-up.
Dressed in a dark blue suit, sky blue tie, and polished black loafers, Bush walked into the gym with little fanfare among a contingent of city leaders and Murphy Oil executives. He watched curiously as the 250 students dressed in bright purple robes and baseball caps embroidered with the El Dorado Promise insignia marched in.
Bush made faces at a few of the nervous students in the front row. When Mayor Mike Dumas gave a shout out to the president, Bush winked. He smiled when Madison Murphy gave him a cap like the students’.
“I’m glad to be back in the Promised Land,” Bush said at the podium, placing the cap on his head but removing it in a flash.
Bush last visited El Dorado in 2004 during his re-election campaign when he held a conversation on jobs and the economy at the local community college.
Straight into his speech, he said teaching was a “noble profession” and that the students should “think about being a teacher.” If many decide to be a mom instead, Bush reminded the students that a mom is “your child’s first teacher.”
“I am uplifted by the spirit in the gym,” he said.
Then, Bush became wistful about his presidency.
“I went 100 miles an hour to zero,” he said.
He told the crowd of nearly 2,000 that he returned to Dallas, picked up a Dallas Morning News and saw an ad for Elliot’s Hardware Store.
“It said ‘Welcome Back, Mr. President. We’re looking for a greeter,'” Bush said to laughs.
So Bush decided to pop into the store. “It created a little bit of a scene.”
He said a woman walked up to him and said, “Anyone tell you that you look like George W. Bush?”
“They tell me that all the time,” he said.
“That must really make you mad,” the woman said.
Bush laughed along with the audience, especially the students. Most of them were born the year Bill Clinton became the 42nd president, so it was the first time any of them had ever been in a room with a president.
Weaving a series of stories about life out of office, Bush told the students about walking Barney, the former first dog. The students looked blank when he asked if they remembered Barney, the Scottish terrier.
Bush recounted walking in his Dallas neighborhood less than a month after leaving office. He called it a “surreal experience” as he realized he hadn’t walked in a neighborhood for eight years.
“The simplest things in life are the most profound.”
Then he realized Barney had never walked in a neighborhood but had always found his relief on the White House lawn. He said he looked down at the plastic dog waste bag on his arm.
“I was picking up what I had been dodging for eight years,” Bush said.
Bush was seldom serious during his speech but told the students to be serious about the contract, which resembles a letter of intent like athletes sign. Students agree to make progress towards a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree, to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and to complete a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester.
“Some people sign a contract and it doesn’t mean anything,” Bush said. “It’s not just a piece of paper, it’s a commitment.”
Twenty percent of the students will be the first in their family to attend college. He told the students to not underestimate themselves.
“If I was in your position and someone had said ‘You’re going to be president’, I’d said ‘You’d lost your mind,’ I would have behaved better.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
He ended his short speech — less than 15 minutes — with a story about a trip he and former First Lady Laura Bush took to Rwanda while in the White House. There, they met children who had lost their parents to AIDS. He stood around the 50 children and said to them, “God is good.”
“All the time,” they said in unison.
Bush said it again, not believing what he heard. They repeated it. He expected them to say “life is miserable.” He looked at the students, who were anticipating their group picture with him, and said, “God is good.”
“All the time,” the 250 students said in harmony to the former president.

Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

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