Former First Lady Laura Bush will return to her alma mater May 16 to deliver the address at SMU’s 94th Commencement ceremony. SMU expects to award nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in the University-wide ceremony, starting at 9:30 a.m. in Moody Coliseum.
Mrs. Bush earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from SMU in 1968.
“With her life-long dedication to education and the global insights she has gained from her years as First Lady, Mrs. Bush will offer a unique perspective to our graduates. At the same time, she brings a shared memory of her own graduation from the University,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We are pleased to welcome her back to campus for this important academic tradition.”
Mrs. Bush is actively involved in national and global issues, with an emphasis on education, health care and human rights. As First Lady, she made a historic trip to Afghanistan in 2005 to witness the progress achieved by the Afghan people after the fall of the Taliban regime. She visited the Women’s Teacher Training Institute in Kabul, which is preparing women to lead classrooms that girls were once forbidden to enter. Mrs. Bush’s involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001, when she delivered a weekly radio address to call attention to the plight of women and children suffering under the Taliban.
A former teacher and librarian, Mrs. Bush in 2001 convened a Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, a forum for scholars and educators to share research on preparing children for lifelong learning. She led former President George W. Bush’s Helping America’s Youth initiative and remains an enthusiastic proponent of teacher recruitment programs such as Teach for America, The New Teacher Project and Troops to Teachers.
A long-time proponent of literacy programs, Mrs. Bush joined with the Library of Congress in September 2001 to launch the first National Book Festival. As First Lady of Texas in 1995, Mrs. Bush established the Texas Book Festival, which continues to thrive. In 2006, Mrs. Bush hosted leaders from around the world for the White House Conference on Advancing Global Literacy, showcasing literacy programs from diverse countries. Her leadership of this effort led to her current role as Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade.
As an advocate for women’s health, Mrs. Bush has been an active participant in campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer and heart disease, both in the United States and globally in such countries as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Panama.
At SMU, the achievements of Mrs. Bush are recognized through the Laura Bush Promenade, a garden and seating area outside Fondren Library Center. The promenade was contributed in 1999 by then Governor George W. Bush to honor his wife’s contributions to libraries and literature. In 1999 Mrs. Bush received SMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In addition to numerous national awards, in 2008 she was honored in Dallas with the Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award of the Methodist Health System Foundation.
A native of Midland, Texas, Laura Bush grew up loving books and wanting to share her passion for literature with others. She taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin and worked as a public school librarian. In 1977, she met and married George Walker Bush. They are the parents of twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.
“As a graduating senior, I cannot think of anyone I would rather have speak at my commencement ceremony,” said Lamar Dowling, student member of the SMU Board of Trustees. “Over the past eight years of serving our country, Mrs. Bush has gained experiences around the nation and globe that have provided her much wisdom to share. As an SMU alumna, she has a variety of accomplishments to show the infinite possibilities that an SMU education can provide.”
After the University-wide Commencement, SMU’s schools and departments will hold individual ceremonies throughout the day to honor graduates. SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students in seven degree-granting colleges.