Former First Lady of the United States Mrs. Laura Bush addressed the importance of education as well as tackling the challenges facing future generations before a full crowd at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center Wednesday evening as part of the University of Northern Iowa's Joy Cole Corning Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series.

Mrs. Bush’s speech touched on a variety of subjects, from her early years as an inner city teacher that formed the foundation for her passion for education and fighting poverty, to her time in the White House during Sept. 11, 2001. She also reflected on her current work with the Bush Institute, a public policy center that champions freedom in all forms, including freedom from ignorance, which she said is best combated through education.

“I believe that literacy is an essential foundation of democracy,” Mrs. Bush said. “From my own experience, I know that books have the power not just to move people as individuals, but to shape our journey as a nation.”



Mrs. Bush noted that the challenges facing today’s generation are different from those facing generations of the past. She said that one in three adolescents drop out of high schools, and that more children are growing up in single-parent homes. She addressed the increase in drug use and violence in society, while urging the audience to encourage, value and cherish the nation’s youth.

“Never forget that one friendly smile, one reading lesson, one busy hour given over to someone who needs you can make all the difference in the world,” Mrs. Bush said. “There are so many needs to be met and ways to help. That’s what you’re doing tonight with your support of the University of Northern Iowa.”

The evening’s pre-speaker event featured Jill Abraham Hummer, associate professor of political science at Wilson College and author of "First Ladies and American Women: In Politics and at Home." She is currently researching her next book, tentatively titled, “Laura Bush: Literacy, Leadership and the White House.”

Ms. Hummer spoke on “First Ladies in the Modern Era," addressing how the history of First Ladies in America has been tightly intertwined and discussing the sometimes misplaced impressions of what the position entails. 

UNI alumna and former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Joy Cole Corning had the vision to bring nationally and internationally renowned speakers to the UNI campus. The Joy Cole Corning Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series provides students with an understanding of what constitutes leadership across disciplines and helps them discover how people become leaders in their field.