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First Lady Tells Nursing Graduates to Savor Life

Her address at Georgetown University focuses on the personal, not the political.

May 18, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In her first commencement address as the nation's first lady, Laura Bush promoted nursing and public service Saturday but counseled newly minted Georgetown University graduates to take time for themselves and "order a full-fat latte."

Bush, who cultivates a noncontroversial profile, gave a speech light on public policy and long on personal anecdote, advice and praise for the graduating class.

Speaking to the university's School of Nursing and Health Studies, the first lady smiled for pictures onstage with each of the 74 graduates, accepted an honorary degree and joked, "I just hope no one calls me Dr. Laura."

Her appearance at the Jesuit university here in the capital came more than a year after she declined an invitation from UCLA's administration to speak at the school's 2002 spring commencement. At the time, some UCLA students protested the invite, questioning her career credentials and politics.

The brief buzz about that invitation recalled an appearance Barbara Bush, the first lady's mother-in-law, made when she accepted an invitation to address the Wellesley College class of 1990 during the first Bush presidency.

Barbara Bush made front-page headlines with her plea to the graduates of the women's college to put family first. Many in attendance cheered her message. But some critics said that the women's college could have picked a better role model than the elder Mrs. Bush, who they pointed out had dropped out of college.

Thirteen years later, there was not a trace of protest and barely a hint of politics at the event here.

Laura Bush, who earned a bachelor's degree in education from Southern Methodist University in 1968 and a master's degree in library science from the University of Texas in 1973, seemed at ease in her purple academic robe, and was warmly welcomed by the graduates and hundreds of their friends and family members.

In her remarks, the 56-year-old Bush recalled when her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, graduated from high school and left home for college.

"They say that parents often have to get out of the house when their kids leave because it gets so lonely," Bush said. Then she joked: "Everyone deals with it in different ways. But I told George I thought running for president was a little extreme."

Bush praised the graduates' choice of profession, noting that the nation will need "more than a million" nurses by 2010.

"Throughout the world," she said, "patients wait for the comfort of your care, cures wait to be discovered and sound policy waits to be enacted." It was one of her few references to the public agenda. She added: "Each of you is an inspiring example of altruism and service."

Bush also told the graduates to enjoy life. "Take time for yourself," she said. "Look up at the sky and try to count the stars. Laugh out loud in the movie theater. Order a full-fat latte." The audience chuckled.

"It was amazing. She's so inspiring in her work with young people," said graduate Dorothy Fink, who said she was most impressed by Bush's "outlook on life and how she really told you to enjoy the moment you're in."

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