Saturday, October 13, 2012

Former First-Daughter Continues Family Legacy of Service

Jenna Bush Hager speaks at the University of New England in Biddeford

Story and photo by Rhyan Romaine
Staff Columnist

“My parents not only brought us into the world, they brought the world to us,” and for former First Daughter, Jenna (Bush) Hager, those experiences inspired a lifetime of compassion and humanitarianism.
Hager has cradled the infant face of hunger in Guatemala, witnessed the impact of HIV/AIDS throughout Latin America and Africa, and lifted the heavy hearts of children left parentless after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Often fighting back tears, Hager shared these powerful and poignant stories with nearly 500 people on Monday, as part of the George and Barbara Bush Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of New England’s Harold Alfond Forum. While explaining the importance of sharing these personal stories she said, “I believe the more we know about the plight of people all over the world, the more likely we are to make a difference.”
Hager talked about Lydia, a young, single mother of five living in the most destitute area of Guatemala. Lydia lives in a cliffside hut, earns a mere $5 per week, and has already lost a child to malnourishment. Seeing the swollen bellies of her other children, Lydia selflessly walks four ho
urs every week to secure packets of nutritional supplements that she sprinkles on her children’s food. Hager also fondly recalls Ana, a 17-year-old mother living in Latin America who contracted HIV after being abused by a neighbor in her village. Never considering herself “sick,” Ana raged against the abject poverty of her world and educated herself about the necessary precautions to ensure her daughter, Beatrice, would not contract the disease (Beatrice is HIV free). Back in the United States, Hager remembers the joy she found in the eyes of children at America’s Camp, a camp in Massachusetts for children who lost parents in the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center in 2001.
Prior to Hager’s address, the audience of students, faculty, administrators and community members took to its feet in a standing ovation when her grandparents, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, entered the gymnasium. Nancy Walker Bush Ellis, the 41st President’s sister, was also in attendance for the event. Hager has visited the family’s home on Walkers Point, Kennebunkport, every summer of her life and thanked the University for the opportunity to see how beautiful Maine is in October. She was especially grateful for the opportunity to spend a quiet evening with her grandparents on the family’s oceanfront compound. The former President was assisted by a wheelchair.
While speaking about the people she’s met around the world who inspire her, Hager took time to honor her family and the legacy of service they’ve instilled in her. Married in 2008, Hager announced that it is her grandparents’ marriage that she strives to emulate with her own. Amid friendly anecdotes of playing “house” in the East Room of the White House or “sardines” on the South Lawn, Hager proclaimed never taking for granted the “amazing privilege of living history.” Joking about her father, George W. Bush’s life away from public office, she mentions he has returned to more domestic policy, “my mom is now commanding the ex-commander in chief to pick up his towels and underwear off the floor.”
Since her family left the White House, Hager has become a contributing correspondent to NBC’s “Today” show, a role her family has humorously considered fraternizing with the enemy. She is active in UNICEF, and is currently the chair of UNICEF’s Next Generation, an initiative dedicated to reducing the number of preventable childhood deaths around the world.