Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of former president George W. Bush, was the highlight of the Texas Rose Festival’s annual ladies luncheon. Event organizers say about 800 guests attended the luncheon, held at Green Acres Baptist Church’s Crosswalk, to hear Mrs. Hager speak about community service and helping those in need.
The event began with an introduction of key supporters of the festival as well as recognizing the court and 22 former Texas Rose Festival queens who were in attendance.
Sunni Brookshire introduced Mrs. Hager as “darling, intriguing, smart … and bubbling up with Southern charm.”
Mrs. Hager received two standing ovations and audience members praised her speech and personable style.
Many were moved by her affection for her parents, who influenced her to see the world and to help others.
Mrs. Hager told of her experiences living in the White House, which included meeting the Pope, heads of state, royalty, and her beloved University of Texas at Austin Longhorns after they won a national championship.
“Only in Texas can you put the Pope and Longhorns in one sentence,” she said, amid laughs and head nods.
This was not the first time Mrs. Hager had attended the Texas Rose Festival. She said she’d come to Tyler for events when she was a third-grader.
ON A MISSION
She also had been inspired by her parents to see other parts of the world.
“It was trips to Africa that motivated me to work with HIV/AIDS and women and children around the world,” she said. “…There are $2.3 million children living around the world with HIV/AIDS, many who live with abuse and rejection.”
Poverty, dislocation and disease marked some of the areas she visited through the years. While working and living in Latin America, her job was to tell the stories of children and women who suffered greatly. She wanted to put a face on them, and not let their stories be lost to statistics.
“Numbers don’t provide a real insight into how people live,” Mrs. Hager said.
“Even when I slept, I dreamt of my students,” she said. “Teaching can take a lot out of you.”
She said she saw creativity, joy and optimism through the eyes of children.
“Kids had given me the gift that every teacher longs for,” she said.
Mrs. Hager left the audience a message about finding inspiration and serving the community.
“I hope in telling all of these stories from around the world it will inspire one person to act. … Poverty and violence transcends borders,” she said.
Mrs. Hager lauded organizers of the Texas Rose Festival for their part in serving Tyler.
“You’re teaching these beautiful young women the importance of community and of giving back,” she said.
Mrs. Hager is a contributing correspondent to NBC’s Today where she reports inspiring stories of Americans who make a difference. She continues to be involved with 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.
She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin where she received a degree in English.