From the time President Bush decided to locate his presidential library at Texas A&M University and establish a school of government, his vision varied substantially from that of other public affairs graduate programs. Seeking to imbue students with the vital importance of public service, he emphasized leadership and management in shaping the curriculum. The Bush School of Government and Public Service was founded on those principles and has remained committed to the President’s vision.
President Bush, in defining public service as an enterprise extending beyond elected office, expressed the hope that “…all graduates of this program will have a greater sense of the need to get involved—the need to serve.” From the beginning, he was to be engaged in the School: “I look forward to my involvement with this school as much as any work I have ever undertaken,” he said when the School was dedicated. “I hope to come and teach a little and learn a heck of a lot.” As Dr. Charles Hermann, founding director of the Bush School, recalled, he did all that and more.
The President’s influence was both overt and subtle, Hermann noted. “We wouldn’t have had the deans we’ve had without his direct involvement, and he also wrote letters to potential faculty members, encouraging them to come to the School. There’s no doubt that many outstanding speakers accepted our invitation to come to the School because of their tremendous respect and regard for President Bush,” he added. Many of his friends and former political supporters made major contributions to the School for the same reason—to honor their friend’s dedication and his distinguished service to the nation.
And as many have noted, the President was a prolific correspondent, including the well-known handwritten thank-you notes sent to almost anyone who wrote to him, not just donors or speakers. Bush School students soon found they could count on him for recommendation letters as they began their careers. He always enjoyed hearing from current and former students and learning about their jobs, internships, and successes, Hermann said. His presence at interview conference weekends, where prospective students visited the School, was always a highlight, as he urged students to choose the Bush School over other options.
While the President kept a close eye on the School and was always eager to help, he did not impose himself directly on its operations. He emphasized that the School be nonpartisan, in keeping with his firm belief in the importance of respecting his opponents and encouraging compromise on major issues. A regular visitor to the campus, the President often could be seen fishing in the lake behind the School, playing horseshoes with students or visitors, or working out at the campus Rec Center. Students and faculty soon learned that if the windows were open in the apartment atop the Annenberg Conference Center, it meant that President and Mrs. Bush were, or soon would be, in town.
Occasionally dropping in on classes where he was welcomed by faculty and students alike, President Bush enjoyed listening to student presentations and was especially keen on taking part in student simulations and playing the “POTUS” (President of the United States) role. His questions to the students were insightful and thoughtful and always posed politely, in a way that kept student presenters at ease as he shared relevant experiences from which they could learn.
As the Bush School of Government and Public Service has evolved in the twenty years since its inception, it has earned a reputation for academic excellence, public policy research, solutions for today’s challenges, and graduates schooled in principled leadership and committed to public service. Living up to President Bush’s vision for the School, students pursue his call to public service at all levels of government, in the nonprofit sector, and across the world. These students’ work and contributions to the country are a fitting legacy for a man whose distinguished career of service to the nation and the world will be long remembered.
Our YouTube playlist, George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, has videos from former deans, current faculty, and former students discussing President Bush’s impact on the Bush School. Additionally there are videos with President Bush speaking about his love for the School and his dedication to public service.
A special new episode of the All the Best podcast was released on Nov. 26, 2019 entitled “Remembering Gampy” featuring host Sam LeBlond reading a letter President Bush wrote in March of 1997 after his first post-war parachute jump — after which Sam interviews his cousins George P., Jeb Jr., Lauren and Pierce as they reflected on President Bush’s funeral, their favorite memories, and George & Barbara Bush’s commitment to service. The letter makes sense when you listen to the rest of the episode.
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