Former first lady Barbara Bush told students graduating from Texas A&M University on Friday to cherish those close to them, to foster a strong sense of family values and to be contributing citizens, no matter where they go.
The 80-year-old wife of former President George Bush was on campus to receive an honorary doctorate and to deliver a commencement speech to the College of Architecture, the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Liberal Arts.
"Now, I can't give you any advice on how to be a good teacher or a good architect or how best to use your liberal arts or human development degree, but at this point in my life, I can share with you some ideas of how to survive the inevitable ups and downs," she said at Reed Arena. "After all, I have survived six children, 17 grandchildren, six wars, a book by Kitty Kelley ... two presidents, two governors ... 61 years of marriage to a man who keeps jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, and last but not least, the Aggies' football season."
Bush said life is a horrible thing to miss and that folks need to enjoy living.
"How you approach life will make a huge difference," she said. "Someone once said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who wake up in the morning and say, 'Good morning, Lord,' and those who wake up in the morning and say, 'Good Lord, it's morning.' Make sure you're the former and not the latter."
She also warned the graduating class that there's a difference between having a career and having a life.
"First, I ask each of you, no matter what career path you choose, to never forget to cherish your relationships with friends and family," Bush said. "As important as your obligations as a teacher-, a doctor-, lawyer- or business-leader-to-be, your passions, your spouses, your children, your friends - these are the most important investments you will ever make."
Bush's speech hit home for Paula Downie, 29, of College Station. She earned her master's degree in education Friday. The mother of three said her family comes first.
"It was great," she said. "It was an honor to have her as a speaker in our graduation. I loved her value-based topics. Even though I'm getting my degree, I'm staying home with [my family] until I'm ready to go back to work."
David Provazek, who earned a degree in construction science, said he's heard a good number of commencement speeches, and Bush's topped the list. He liked her message to be active in the community.
"She says it like she sees it," he said. "She doesn't beat around the bush."
Friends, family members and others packed into the arena to see their loved ones graduate. As the graduates entered the pit, many talked to their families in the stands on their cell phones, waving, blowing kisses and smiling.
Some students adorned their mortarboards with messages of thanks or with their graduation year. Others crafted elaborate designs with sequins; one sported the Mexican flag; another attached waist-length ribbons that resembled metallic dreadlocks.
Megan Coody, a 23-year-old education major from Houston, had "Thank you, Grandpa," on her mortarboard. She said her grandfather passed away at the beginning of her college career and left a fund to finance her education.
She said she plans to live in Austin and will begin looking for a teaching job for the fall. Until then, she said, she's working as a nanny in Austin.
For Tressa Marr, 23, there won't be much downtime between graduation and the beginning of her teaching career. She's scheduled to start teaching seventh and eighth grades in the Richardson school district Jan. 3.
Marr landed the job a few weeks ago, in the same district in which she'd been student teaching. But the time leading up to securing the job was a bit unnerving, she said.
"I was real nervous and scared about the unexpected," she said. "But being an Aggie, we have a great reputation. That was something [the school district recruiters] were looking for in teachers."
Aggie tradition isn't lost on Bush, who calls the area her second home. She told the graduates they should have no problem participating in their future communities.
"Here at A&M, we know what that means," she said. "Being a good citizen, after all, is the very essence of the 12th Man experience."
• Josh Baugh's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.