Barbara Pierce Bush Discusses Importance of Family During All-School Meeting

Barbara Pierce Bush visited the Andover campus for the first time in her life this week

Barbara Pierce Bush is the CEO of Global Health Corps, a non-profit organization co-founded in 2009 by Bush with the goal of solving health problems all over the world. Last Wednesday at All-School Meeting, Head of School John Palfrey and Bush discussed how her close relationships with her family including her twin sister, Jenna Bush Hager, her late grandfather, President George H.W. Bush ’42, and her father President George Bush ’64, have positively affected her life and career.

Barbara’s visit this week marked her first visit to Andover. During ASM, she noted the school’s importance to members of her family, as well as how her family has influenced her life.

Barbara said, “When [my sister and I] were born, our grandfather was vice-president. When we were away for college, my dad was president. Our lives were pretty remarkable and different. And yet, our day-to-day life is very ordinary. We grew up in Texas. I was really lucky in that I had a twin sister which meant that I had partner in everything.”

Recounting her personal experience growing up with her grandfather, Bush admired her grandfather for his ability to remain humble. Barbara also spoke about how involved her grandfather was in her daily life, despite holding the significant role of being the President.

Barbara said, “I had thought that everybody’s grandfather was president because my grandfather was so humble. When I went to school, I asked my best friend when her grandfather’s inauguration was, and I found that there wasn’t one. I didn’t understand the importance of his job because he was so involved in our lives. He was like every other grandfather.”

Barbara also shared her insight and first-hand perspective into her grandfather’s style of leadership. More specifically, Bush reflected on how her grandfather’s approach to leadership differed from the common understanding of what being a leader is.

Barbara said, “My grandfather very much led with love. He was very kind and gentle. That was something that was seen as a weakness when he was running for President. I remember specifically that there was a cover of Newsweek that had a picture of my grandfather and read, ‘The Wimp Factor’. All I knew about the word ‘wimp’ was that it was an insult to be told on the playground. The reason for that was because he had a softer, more gentle approach. To me, that’s leadership at it’s best.”

Despite the significance of her grandfather in her life, Bush also spoke about her independence and how she has gained a sense of individuality by separating her views from her other family members’.

“To my parents, [with] two daughters, success is that we’re independent and that we think for ourselves. That’s how I grew up, and as I said they encouraged my independence by allowing me to travel and create my own life for myself,” said Barbara.

In tandem with this idea, Barbara recounted the specific experience of being featured in a video to raise awareness and support for marriage equality in New York City. Bush shared that she is a private person and when asked to be featured in the video, she agreed thinking it would be inconsequential. The outcome, however, was vastly different.

“The day that [the video went] online, it [was] written about on the front page of ‘The New York Times.’ Within the first few hours there were 1.2 million views, so it was a big deal.” said Barbara.

Barbara continued, “The reason it garnered attention was that it seemed to be a disagreement with my father. What happened after that is that I would walk down the street in New York and people would come up to me and say, ‘That was so courageous of you to betray your father like that.’ I was totally shocked that that was the sentiment because it wasn’t me betraying my father, nor did my dad see it as a betrayal.”

According to Barbara, she has never felt that she has lived in her father’s shadow. On the contrary, she shared that her father has encouraged and supported her throughout her life. Bush also accredited the freedom she had growing up, especially as it allowed her to enjoy being pushed outside her comfort zone.

Barbara gave advice to Andover students, saying, “Do the things that seem scary, like just say ‘yes’ because you have no idea how it will impact you.”

Barbara’s self-reliance resonated with Jamie Justicz ’20.

“It was really interesting to see her response about her life in the shadow of her father. She really seemed to emphasize independence,” said Justicz.

Similarly, Celeste Robinson ’22 was inspired by Barbara’s accomplishments in relation to her family’s success and how she did not use her family success, but her father’s mentorship to her benefit instead.

“I think she’s accomplished a lot in terms of finding her own voice politically and standing by that,” said Robinson.

Jordan Hempstead ’19 was inspired in how Bush was able to find her own identity. Hempstead said, “Even with [her familial] background and her relatives being political figures, it didn’t cast a shadow and kept doing what she did what she wanted to do.”