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Laura Bush accepts WONK of the Year Award

​Former First Lady was awarded in front of a crowd of students and faculty that filled Bender Arena on April 8.

Former First Lady Laura Bush was awarded the 2015 “Wonk of the Year” award in front of a crowd of students and faculty that filled Bender Arena on April 8.

"Thank you for this incredible honor of Wonk of the Year," Bush said. "I'm thrilled."

While student reactions to the initial announcement were mixed, The Eagle previously reported, the crowd greeted the former first lady with a standing ovation.

“Before I start, I thought you might want some updates about the rest of my family,” Bush said, telling the audience about her father-in-law’s latest skydiving adventure and her husband’s new hobby — painting.

In her speech, Bush spoke about her passion for promoting literacy and education.

"Reading is not just a cause I selected as first lady. It's one of the driving passions of my life," said the former librarian and school teacher.

Bush told an anecdote from her days as a teacher in Houston in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when she was exposed to the poverty many American children face. She described an instance when she was forced to leave a child behind on a field trip, standing at the door in his underwear, because his mother did not come out of the house to give her permission.

“All I could do was hug him goodbye with an extra squeeze,” she said.

Throughout the night, Bush spoke about the various initiatives she is involved in, including the Legacies of America’s First Ladies initiative in partnership with AU. The initiative works to honor the contributions of first ladies around the world through conferences, events and partnerships with academic and historical institutions.

“There are so many needs to be met, and so many ways we can help,” Bush said, discussing her work with first ladies of other nations, including the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign in Africa which raises awareness for HIV/AIDS and Cervical Cancer.

Anita McBride, an executive-in-residence in the School of Public Affairs and Bush’s former chief-of-staff, is the conference chair of this initiative and hosted the question and answer segment of the night.

Bush is the third recipient of the award, following President Bill Clinton in 2012 and CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper in 2013. The event marked the first time that the Kennedy Political Union has brought a first lady to the University, KPU President Tyler Bowders said, although other first ladies, including Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron, have visited AU previously.

Tickets for the event were released on March 26 and were still available online when the doors opened at 7:30 p.m. When Cooper received the award in 2013, KPU distributed tickets at three different times, with the first round of tickets selling out in 15 seconds, The Eagle previously reported.

Earlier this year, Bush was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the American University of Afghanistan her support of the university and work raising awareness for women’s rights in the country.  

“Many many Afghan girls are in school now, and virtually none were in school in 2001,” Bush said. "We need to be with the people of Afghanistan as they build their democracy."

Throughout the night, Bush emphasized the importance of giving back, either through teaching or other forms of philanthropy.

“I'm so proud that so many American University students are preparing for a life of service,” Bush said.

asrikanth@theeagleonline.com


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