Not even a protester yelling, "John Kerry for President," could keep Former President George H.W. Bush from sharing stories of his life in politics, his family and a few words of wisdom with more than 1,000 Rio Grande Valley students during The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation Outstanding Leadership Series Feb. 5 at the UTPA Fine Arts Auditorium.
Students ranging from high school GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) to UTPA students were on hand to listen to Bush answer questions from nine students about his career in politics and advice for future leaders.
"I think leadership has to be based on values," Bush said. "There are all kinds of ways to look at it. You need to reaffirm your values and take those with you when you try to lead other people."
Cindy Prado, a GEAR UP student from Rio Grande City High School asked Bush, "What type of leadership skills did you possess when you were my age which helped you to the White House?"
Bush answered jokingly, "I'm not sure I had any leadership skills when I was your age."
Bush said he learned most of his leadership skills playing sports and encouraged the audience to get involved in competitive sports. He said there are similarities between leadership in sports and politics.
"You learn from that because you learn how to be a good loser and learn to be good winners and that helped me all through my life."
During the session, Bush also discussed the current war in Iraq and the recent capture of Saddam Hussein. He said to the audience the toughest decision for any president to make, including himself, is sending soldiers into battle.
"The loss of life of any soldier is on the shoulder and conscience of the president," Bush said. "I believe we are involved in a complicated, but just war because the bottom line is, the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein."
Bush said when he first heard the news of Hussein's capture, he was both joyful and shocked at the same time when he saw pictures of Hussein crawling out of the hole he was hidden in.
"My own feeling is that this makes things better for Iraq, it makes things more clearer," he said. "I just felt joy."
In the end, Bush invited those present to attend his 80th birthday parachute jump at Texas A&M University on June 12.
"Just because you are an old guy, it doesn't mean you can't do stuff," he said. "You have to live life to the fullest."
"It was very exciting, it was something a lot of kids my age don't get to do. He said some stuff that was very inspiring for me and some things that could help me in my leadership goals in high school," Villegas said.
Marleen Rodriguez, a UTPA senior representing the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, had the opportunity to ask Bush a question during the session.
"I feel it is important to get involved in politics because it gives you a voice and I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity," Rodriguez said.
At the evening portion of the Outstanding Leadership Series, Bush talked to more than 800 corporate CEO's, business owners and other donors to UTPA about leadership, faith and family at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
The event netted more than $150,000 for UTPA student scholarships.
"It's [Bush's visit] very significant first of all for our students because the main focus is to raise funds for scholarships," said Roland S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs. "Every $3,000 we raise allows students to go to school for a year. The second good thing about it is that it exposes a lot of our folks down here in this region to world-class leaders."
Bush told the audience one of the proudest moments of his life was when his son, George W. Bush, was named the 43rd president of the United States, and his son John (Jeb) Bush was named the governor of Florida. Overall Bush said he enjoys his days out of the limelight and watching from the sidelines.
"Now it is time for a new generation to get their uniform dirty and handle the tough issues of the day, and the Bush family has George W. Bush in Washington and Jeb Bush in Florida and they make a parent prouder than we can possibly describe," he said. "At this stage it is not about issues anymore, it's about your friends, your faith and about your family and I am truly blessed."
To conclude the Outstanding Leadership Series presentation, Bush took a few questions from the audience and was presented with a few tokens of appreciation from the University and UTPA Foundation Board Chairman Joe Ramirez.