At the invitation of President George H. W. Bush, President Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the Points of Light Foundation’s Presidential Forum on Service on October 16, 2009. The historic event was held on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, home of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Since the School’s inception in 1997, the former president has actively encouraged the School to emphasize the importance of public service in government and nonprofit organizations as well as citizen volunteerism. Although the Forum was not sponsored by the Bush School, a number of students assisted with the planning and helped at the event, and had the opportunity to meet both presidents.
The Presidential Forum celebrated the Points of Light Foundation’s 20th anniversary by honoring individual volunteers’ service and celebrating the tremendous increase in volunteerism during the past two decades under the Foundation’s leadership. This unique bipartisan gathering offered both presidents the opportunity to celebrate volunteer service and inspire others—especially young people—to continue that tradition. Individuals and organizations from all parts of the country that have been designated as Points of Light were special guests and were honored for their service and contributions. Many of these individuals were introduced to the audience and asked to tell their unique stories, a fitting prelude to the formal program
Both President Bush and President Obama emphasized the importance of public service and volunteer engagement at all levels—local, state, and national. “In the end, service binds us to each other and to our community and to our country in a way that nothing else can,” Obama said. In introducing President Obama, President Bush said he “is absolutely right. There isn’t a more important time than now for us all to get involved.”
President Obama congratulated Texas A&M for its students’ focus on community service and said he could understand why Mr. Bush chose to locate his presidential library and school at this university. “What you all are doing here is precisely what he was talking about when he called for those thousand points of light, and became the first president to create a White House office devoted solely to promoting volunteerism,” said Mr. Obama. “It’s a vision that’s changed lives across the country,” he added.
In addition to the Points of Light honorees, the audience of 2,300 included faculty and students from the Bush School and the University, and nonprofit leaders from the local community. They enthusiastically cheered the call for more volunteerism, and were moved by the obvious affection and respect demonstrated by the two leaders as they embraced on the stage.
President Bush’s firm belief in the value of public service is reflected in the school that bears his name, as evidenced by the School’s development of a nonprofit management/leadership program. The Certificate in Nonprofit Management (CNPM) develops leaders for the nonprofit sector, contributes to a broader understanding of nonprofits and their key role in society, and supports effective management of these important organizations. Students in the Master of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) program can choose a concentration in nonprofit management and earn the certificate, while others—including professionals working in nonprofit agencies—can earn the certificate via part-time or online programs offered by the Bush School.
A partnership with the United Way of Houston and course offerings in both Houston and the Woodlands—a community midway between Houston and College Station—enables working professionals to take advantage of the certificate program, enhancing their leadership and management skills while helping them stay current in a dynamic and rapidly changing nonprofit environment. A grant from Texas’s OneStar Foundation has supported another Bush School program, this one for emerging young leaders, which also helps meet the urgent and well-documented need for well-educated and experienced professionals in the nonprofit field.
President Obama made clear his admiration for President Bush and Barbara Bush and their unswerving commitment to public service. “George Bush isn’t just a president who promoted the ethic of public service long before it was fashionable—he’s a citizen whose life has embodied that ethic,” he said.