Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush speak at Southeastern University
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03/15/10 Alexis Chamberlain
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Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush are greeted by chancellor of Southeastern University, Tommy Barnett.


photo by Alexis Chamberlain

Security was tight at Lakeland’s Southeastern University Friday night as former president George W. Bush spoke, along with wife, Laura, at the fourth annual National Leadership Forum.

The media were prohibited from entering Southeastern University’s Bush Chapel—named after the university’s former president and Assemblies of God official—as the former president and first lady spoke to a sold-out crowd of more than 700 people.

Despite the rain, a mixture of supporters and protesters greeted the two as they arrived on campus.

Jordan Harrah of the organization Wearechange.org was among the protesters who did not believe the former president was an appropriate candidate for the forum.

He’s kind of being honored here for leadership when innocent people—millions of innocent people—have died, basically, due to his actions. And maybe if he chose to have some accountability in terms of what he’s done, and all the crimes he’s committed—I mean, he’s committed acts against the United Nations charter … crimes against humanity, the war of Iraq. There’s no justification. He didn’t go through Congress. I mean, there’s been a lot of issues that haven’t been getting any answers, really.

The forum marked the Bushes’ first time speaking together at an event, which focused on not only leadership, but servant leadership—a concept which focuses on forming leaders to assist in developing and leading future leaders.

Afterward, student volunteer Melissa Miller said she welcomed the former president’s advice.

I mean, obviously there’s a lot of people that really respect them, that are here, and just having such a repertoire of good speakers here, and they’re adding to that. I think it’s just going to have a really good effect on the leaders that are being nurtured here in the school.

Although the topic of leadership was the forum’s main focus, there was “a mix of humor, homespun stories, candor, historical insight, and heartfelt moments” throughout the event, according to a Southeastern University press release.

Miller was surprised the Bushes agreed to attend the forum.

I thought it was really, really cool, and kind of unlikely, like, I just had no idea that we would have the prestige to be able to get a former president to come, and stuff.

Laura Bush spoke for about 40 minutes, focusing her speech on Sept. 11, 2001, the importance of literacy and the media’s criticism of her husband, while Bush sat down for a 70-minute question-and-answer session with the chancellor of the university, Tommy Barnett. The audience gave several standing ovations.

But Harrah and his organization were not as hospitable.

We’re not going to forget about the things that he’s done. And we’re constantly pursuing every politician; we confront politicians wherever they are, wherever they may be, and just make sure they know that the voice of the people is not going to get silenced—whether or not, you know, they put security guards, corporate cops like these, to block ’em. They’re going to hear our message, one way or another. And George Bush has certainly heard our message.

According to the university’s media release, George W. Bush focused his answers on his personal life, faith, motives and values, as well as his presidency and retirement. He even addressed the topic of his brother and former forum speaker, Jeb Bush, and whether or not the former Florida governor would run for president. Bush said he believes his brother is a great leader and wishes he’d run, but doesn’t think he will.

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