Daughter of former President George W. Bush gives speech at Cal Poly

Jenna Bush Hager spoke to about 150 people Thursday morning at Cal Poly as part of the university’s Provocative Perspective Speaker Series.
Jenna Bush Hager spoke to about 150 people Thursday morning at Cal Poly as part of the university’s Provocative Perspective Speaker Series. jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush, visited Cal Poly on Thursday to encourage participation in humanitarian work and community volunteer projects.

Hager appeared at Cal Poly as the first speaker for 2010 in the university’s Provocative Perspective Speaker Series. About 150 people attended the early-morning event.

The 28-year-old shared stories of people living in poverty and with HIV in countries that she has visited in Latin America and Africa.

Hager is a correspondent for NBC’s “Today Show,” where she focuses on the inspirational contributions of people throughout America.

She is an active reading coordinator in Baltimore and the chair of the Next Generation project of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) — which aims to eliminate preventable deaths of children. “Go out and do something you love,” Hager told the crowd. “There are thousands of things to get involved with in your community.”

Hager graduated from the University of Texas with an English degree in 2004.

She spoke of her love for reading and writing and has authored a book about a single mother in Panama with HIV called “Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope,” a New York Times best-seller.

She said she’s not interested in getting in the middle of the “two-party back and forth of American politics,” but she is interested in political activism, including lobbying for votes on legislation.

For example, Hager said she would be active by informing congressional leaders about Africa or countries they may have never visited to further a cause.

Bush fielded questions from Cal Poly students and the public that primarily focused on her volunteer work.

She encouraged a member of a Cal Poly sorority to go out and find interesting, compelling community work with her sisters.

An elementary schoolgirl interested in writing asked about Hager’s love for reading and writing.

Hager said that her mother encouraged her as a young girl in part as a way to distract her from an obsession with dolls, and she really grew to love literature.

“The more you read, the better of a writer you’ll be,” Hager said.

After the talk, a long line of audience members gave Hager books to autograph, and they took photos with her.

Mike Tollefson of Atascadero said that though he’s a Democrat, he attended the talk with his 12-year-old and 16-year-old daughters because he wanted them to hear Hager’s inspiring stories.

Cal Poly sophomores Jessica Ozella and Morgan Dahl, both 19, said they got up for the 7:30 a.m. event, which encouraged them to seek out community service.

Mechanical engineering professor James Locascio said that the daughters of Bush sometimes get a “raw deal” because of their public exposure.

Hager has been the focus of comic fire for past underage alcohol-related charges, and has been satirized on the NBC comedy sketch television show “Saturday Night Live,” along with her sister, Barbara.

Locascio thought Hager’s speech had a good message.

“I think it’s really important to inspire young men and women, but especially young men to read,” Locascio said.