SEWANEE, Tenn. — Former first lady Barbara Bush on Saturday became the second in her family to receive an honorary degree from Sewanee: The University of the South.
Her degree, given at the school’s 153rd baccalaureate service in honor of her lifelong work in family literacy, followed by more than two decades the one given to former President George H.W. Bush.
Photo by Woodrow Blettel/Courtsey of the University of the South Former first lady Barbara Bush receives an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from the University of the South, May 15, 2010. The degree is presented by the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander, chancellor of the University and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
Hundreds of people started lining up hours before the 10 a.m. CDT service at All Saints Chapel on the campus in Sewanee.
Only about 1,000 could fit in the chapel. Many more hoping to see Mrs. Bush lead the processional of faculty and students had to be rerouted to two other locations on campus. They watched the Episcopal church service and the conferring of Mrs. Bush’s honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree via a live video feed.
Graduating seniors will receive their diplomas today in a separate ceremony.
Hospitalized in March in Houston, Texas, Mrs. Bush walked into the chapel Saturday looking healthy and strong. Chattanooga native and Newsweek magazine editor Jon Meacham, who received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, escorted her as she smiled and made eye contact with observers. She made no remarks at the ceremony.
University spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said Mrs. Bush, during a welcome dinner Friday night, reminisced fondly about her husband’s visit there in the mid-1980s as vice president to Ronald Reagan.
“She said he had loved it here,” Ms. Saxton said.
Mrs. Bush also talked about her family’s strong faith in God, Ms. Saxton said, and graciously acknowledged the political differences between her family and Mr. Meacham.
JON MEACHAM’S WISDOM FOR GRADUATES
* Love your neighbor
* Read detective novels
* Go to the movies
* Never be afraid to put your hand on your heart during the national anthem
* Write thank you notes on actual paper
“We might not always agree, but at the end of the day we are friends,” Mrs. Bush told school officials.
Mr. Meacham, a 1991 Sewanee graduate, gave the baccalaureate address, opening it with a goodhearted joke about the former first lady.
“Mrs. Bush just said if lightning strikes, she hopes the current doesn’t affect her as I stand in this place,” Mr. Meacham said to roars of laughter.
As a Pulitzer Prize winner and highly accomplished journalist in the secular media, Mr. Meacham’s address concentrated on religion and values in the modern world. He confessed he is an “unemotional Christian” who doesn’t concern himself with how he feels about “angels.”
But he encouraged graduating seniors to remember that “faith and reason are not incompatible” as they embark on their careers beyond college.
“To me, to be reflexively dismissive of faith is as intellectually irresponsible as being reflexively dismissive of the role of the mind in the life of faith and the world,” Mr. Meacham said.