Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter and granddaughter of U.S. presidents named George Bush, will visit Charlotte to speak at the Southern Women’s Show in September. As she told SouthPark Magazine recently, she hopes to deliver a message about each person’s power to make a difference. Hager, a former schoolteacher, is a contributing correspondent to NBC’s “Today” show, where she focuses on educational issues. In 2006, she traveled to Latin America as an intern with UNICEF and was inspired to write “Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope,” which became a New York Times bestseller. She is currently the chair of UNICEF’s Next Generation, an initiative dedicated to improving the lives of children around the world.
Q. What do you plan to speak about when you visit here?
I hope to talk about things that I find inspirational. I had the opportunity to work in Latin America with so many amazing kids, with UNICEF, and I got to listen to their stories and I was really inspired by what they told me, and I’d like to share some of that because those stories moved me and I think others would be moved by them as well.
Q. What inspired you to become a storyteller?
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I was an English and creative writing major at University of Texas, and it was always my dream to write and tell people’s stories. Moving to Latin America was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.I went there to learn. I didn’t go there to necessarily write. But when I got there my boss sat us down and I was there with my best friend who’s a photographer, and she looked at our resumes, which were pretty slim back then, and she just thought ‘Why not go and meet with kids and tell their stories for funding purposes and awareness?’ But of course the more people we met and the more stories we heard, we realized it could be a much bigger project. It was so amazing for the children to trust us with these stories. Many of the kids were living in poverty and exclusion, they didn’t have access to school, many had HIV/AIDS or faced abuse. But I was always inspired by the resilience of these kids. They didn’t want to be a statistic or a victim. They wanted to tell their stories so other kids here could learn from it. And it showed me I could merge telling stories and hopefully, in a small way, trying to make a difference.
Q. Has your work given you ideas on how to improve the U.S. educational system?
I was a teacher and I came back and taught after I got back from Latin America, in inner city west Baltimore at a public boarding school for kids who were at risk and disadvantaged. I believe in choices. Not every family in America has the choice to send their kids to an independent or alternative school. I’m a big proponent of the charter school movement. I worked also in a charter school in Washington D.C. Poverty transcends borders. Many of my students were facing very similar circumstances to many of the kids I met in Latin America. But a lot of (the U.S. students) had these other opportunities, these charter schools or parents who said ‘You’re going to school,’ and young teachers, Teach for America teachers, working so hard so that these kids could be the first in their families to go to college. When I came back, I could talk with my students about the kids I met in Latin America, and many were saddened that these kids didn’t have the same rights as our kids do here in the U.S. You think about some countries where girls in particular don’t have rights to schools or anything, and don’t have a voice.
Q. If you had children, would you send them to a charter school?
That’s hard, that’s hypothetical, I only have cats right now. It just depends. I live in New York City right now and in my neighborhood there are a lot of great public schools. I think it’s important that every parent has a choice and every student has a choice, and that’s not always the case around our country.
Q. What’s your biggest passion right now?
Education, definitely. When I moved to New York City from Baltimore in December, I stopped teaching, so I’m not in the classroom anymore, and I hope to go back. I was visiting a school in Brooklyn and I went to their end-of-year celebration and I kind of got teary eyed, because there’s no more rewarding or more difficult job, and to not be in the classroom has been difficult. So I hope to get back there as soon as possible.
Q. How would you describe your personal sense of style?
Pretty classic. I think our First Lady (Michelle Obama) has done a good job of mixing high and low end pieces. I have a lot of friends who are designers, so it’s always fun to be able to wear their pieces, but at my core I’m pretty classic and I like clean lines. I probably get that from my mother.
Q. Would you say your style is conservative?
Probably not. Although I don’t ever want to wear anything that would embarrass my mother or grandmother.I’m in my last year of my 20s. I think I probably am more eccentric or bohemian than conservative. I have traveled so much and everywhere I go, I get inspiration. Friends come to my apartment and say ‘Are you Spanish?’ because I have so much Spanish art, and African influences as well. When we experience the richness of other cultures, we can’t help but be influenced stylistically by them as well.
Q. Which fashion icons do you admire?
Jackie O, obviously, an old school style. I just found some really cool vintage clothes in Dallas. My (twin) sister (Barbara) is also a big inspiration. She has worked in fashion and has a really beautiful eye for mixing different styles and patterns. She always looks great and helps style me, which is nice. Most of all, even though I love clothes, I really am into interior design, and I think I get that from my mom. So that’s been really fun with moving, going from an old townhouse in Baltimore to a loft in New York City. It’s been kind of fun to reinvent our look.
Q. What’s one takeaway that you hope people bring with them after your visit here?
I hope mainly to thank women for what they’re doing, for being these amazing role models for the next generation. And, to talk about the way that one person can change the lives of so many. The kids I met in Latin America exist in Charlotte, they exist in New York City, they exist all over our country. Even though it may seem simple, go out and help a child in your community. It goes a long way.
Want to go?Jenna Bush Hager When: 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 (Editor's note: The print version of SouthPark Magazine contained an incorrect date - this is the correct one.) Where: Carolinas Medical Center Main Stage at The Park Expo & Conference Center, 2500 E. Independence Blvd.. Tickets: Discount tickets to the Southern Women's Show, running Sept. 15-18, are available at participating Lowes Foods locations and cost $7 for adults, $5 for ages 6-12. Advance tickets for adults are $8 or $9 at the door.More info: www.southernshows.com/wch/
For more information on another event held during the Southern Women's Show, the Dress for Success Look at Her Power fundraiser on Sept. 15, click here.