July 31, 2000
The wife of Texas Governor and prospective nominee George W. Bush discusses her husband's principles, his campaign and his plan for education.
"You have made a GREAT choice."
I am honored and a little overwhelmed to help open the convention that will nominate my husband for President of the United States. You know I am completely objective when I say ... you have made a GREAT choice.
George and I have been blessed throughout our 23 years of marriage with many interesting opportunities. Our lives have changed enormously in the last six years. He was elected Governor, we moved to Austin with our then 13-year-old twin teenagers, and since then, we've been through dating, drivers licenses, prom night and just a few weeks ago, high school graduation.
Now we're helping our daughters pack for college and we're preparing for our next life crisis ... empty nest syndrome. They say parents often have to get out of the house when their kids go off to college because it seems so lonely. Everyone deals with it in different ways. But I told George I thought running for President was a little extreme.
Thankful For Family
I'm grateful to my family for being here tonight. My mother, Jenna Welch, our daughters Barbara and Jenna, and a couple of people you may know ... my mother and father-in-law. I love them all dearly.
I thank Michael and all his students for helping introduce me. I have never had this many people watch me give a speech before, but I feel very at home here in this classroom setting. Education is the living room of my life.
Bush and Education
George's opponent has been visiting schools lately and sometimes when he does, he spends the night before at the home of a teacher ... well, George spends EVERY night with a teacher.
I first decided to become a teacher when I was in the second grade. Neither of my parents graduated from college, but I knew at an early age they had that high hope and high expectation for me. My Dad bought an education policy, and I remember him telling me, "Don't worry, your college education will be taken care of."
Growing up I practiced teaching on my dolls. I would line them up in rows for the day's lessons. Years later our daughters did the same thing. We used to joke that the Bush family had the best-educated dolls in America.
George and I always read to our girls -- Dr. Seuss "Hop on Pop" was one of his favorites. George would lie on the floor and the girls would literally hop on pop, turning story time into a contact sport.
We wanted to teach our children what our parents had taught us ... that reading is entertaining and interesting and important. And one of the major reasons George is running for President is to make sure every child in America has that same opportunity. That's why he's proposed a 5 billion dollar Reading First initiative with a great American purpose ... to make sure every child in every neighborhood learns to read at grade level by third grade.
George led a similar initiative as Governor with fabulous results. A highly respected, nonpartisan RAND study released just last week found our education reforms in Texas have resulted in some of the highest achievement gains in the country, among students from all racial, socioeconomic and family backgrounds.
It happened because George led the way, focusing state money and schools' attention on reading. We developed a rigorous research-based curriculum; we funded intensive in-school, after-school and summer school reading intervention programs --we improved teacher training.
When I taught school in Houston and Austin, many of my second, third and fourth grade students couldn't read, and frankly I'm not sure I was very good at teaching them.
I tried to make it fun by making the characters in children's books members of our class. We saved a web in the corner for Charlotte. But I know many teachers will agree we need better training in what works to teach children to read, and as president, George will fund improved teacher training.
Public school reforms are crucial but they aren't enough. Learning to read starts much earlier. Researchers have learned parents should read out loud to their babies ... toddler's vocabularies are closely related to how much time adults spend talking with them. And importantly, listening to television doesn't help a young child develop language skills-- it's just background noise.
Making Early Childhood Development a Priority
As First Lady, I will make early childhood development one of my priorities, and George will strengthen Head Start to make sure it's an early reading and early learning program.
I watched my husband make a difference as Governor, not by giving one speech about reading, but by giving one hundred speeches about reading--directing time, money and resources to our schools.
And that's the kind of discipline and commitment George will bring to the presidency. He'll set great goals, and he'll work tirelessly to achieve them.
George and I grew up in Midland, Texas-- a small town in a vast desert-- a place where neighbors had to help each other because any other help was too far away.
Midland was a place of family and community, and it had a sense of possibility as big as the West Texas sky. Midland formed value reserves as deep and longer lasting than any of its oil wells. And from the wellspring of those values, George developed the strength and constancy of conviction.
His core principles will not change with the winds of polls or politics or fame or fortune or misfortune. I know because I've known him through big legislative successes and a few defeats. I sat by his side during some winning and many losing baseball seasons. But George never loses sight of home plate.
I was looking through some family scrapbooks recently. The first year we married, George ran for Congress in West Texas. As I thumbed through the old brochures, what struck me is how the things George said then are the same things he believes now ... that government should be limited ... that local people make the best decisions for their schools and communities ... that all laws and policies should support strong families ... that individuals are responsible for their actions.
George stood on these principles as Governor, and he worked with Republicans and Democrats to build consensus and get things done.
He shares credit and doesn't cast blame. He sets a tone that's positive and constructive, a tone that is very different from the bitterness and division that too often characterizes Washington D.C. Finally, George has a strong sense of purpose.
"A charge to keep."
To quote the hymn that inspired his book, he believes we all have "a charge to keep," a responsibility to use our different gifts to serve a cause greater than self.
The President of the United States of America is MORE than a man or a woman, as I hope the case will sometime be. The President is the most visible symbol of our country, of its heart and its values and its leadership in the world. And when Americans vote this November, they will be looking for someone to uphold that high honor and that trust.
You can see it in the pictures. The pictures are one of the most compelling stories of this campaign. We first saw them on our very first campaign trip. They're the pictures of America's future.
Moms and Dads and grandparents bring them to parades and picnics. They hold out pictures of their children and they say to George ... "I'm counting on you ...I want my son or daughter to respect the President of the United States of America."
George is a leader who inspires the best in others and he will bring out the best in our country. George and I recently went to the high school graduation in Crawford, Texas, population 631. Like so many Americans, the people in Crawford are down-to-earth people with big dreams for their children.
This early summer night, the sky was huge and full of more stars than you could take in at once. The graduation was especially poignant because one young man who should have been there wasn't.
He died of cancer two years ago, during his sophomore year. His parents were on the front row, and we all cried with them. The community embraced them, on this special occasion that was so happy and so sad all at once.
As I watched George visit with the graduates and their families, I thought ... This is America. Down-to-earth people who work hard, who care for our neighbors, who want a better life for our children. And the people of America deserve a leader who lifts our sights, who inspires us to dream bigger and do more.
In the midst of this presidential campaign, at our ranch outside of Crawford, George and I are building a house. It's a foundation to come home to-- with a big sky to look up to.
As we worked on the plans, I put a door between bedrooms that our teenagers will probably want closed to keep us from hearing their conversations. But one day, we'll want to open that door so we can hear our grandchildren playing.
One day, God willing, George will be a fabulous grandfather. In the meantime, he'll make a GREAT President.
Thank you, God bless you all, and God bless America.
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