Updates from October, 2013 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Women’s Congressional Staff Association Conversation with Former Chiefs of Staff to the First Lady – Sept. 16, 2013 

    Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Anita McBride (left) and Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama (right)

    Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Anita McBride (left) and Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama (right)

    On Monday, September 16th, 2013, Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, and Jackie Norris, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, took part in a moderated panel hosted by the Women’s Congressional Staff Association (WCSA). WCSA is an official U.S. House of Representatives-recognized, bipartisan congressional staff organization dedicated to promoting career development opportunities for female congressional staffers.  WCSA’s Congressional sponsors are Representative Lois Capps (D-CA), Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Tessie Abraham, (Legislative Counsel to Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), President of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association, moderated the panel, which took place at the U.S. Capitol Visitors’ Center.

    Tessie asked Anita and Jackie what the day-to-day tasks were like as a chief of staff to a first lady. Anita explained that a day was never typical, other than knowing that you started your day at 6:45am and usually ended at 10pm.  The most important thing, Anita said, was knowing how to prioritize the tasks at hand and “pivot from important to urgent”.  There were always priorities in a day that were very different in nature.  Anita described how she would find herself switching between getting involved in planning a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth to planning a trip to Afghanistan. When an unexpected disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina occurred, Anita and the East Wing staff would have to be flexible and spend the majority of their time helping the first lady organize visits to support relief efforts throughout the Gulf Coast – making more than 20 trips to the region.

    Jackie agreed that each day was different, and that she would wake up every day worrying about herself or the first lady making a mistake in the spotlight of the media.

    Tessie asked Anita and Jackie what separates good employees from exceptional employees. Anita said that confidentiality and loyalty to the principals or organization that the employee is working for are essential. One thing that Anita felt was most important working in the White House was that the employee understood that they had “temporary custodianship” of the position that they held. The employee in any organization should think of the big picture, and have a willingness to do whatever it takes with a positive attitude. Jackie agreed, and added that honor and follow-through are vital to being an exceptional employee. She said that it can sometimes feel like you are “drinking out of a fire hose,” and that work can be overwhelming. Following through, responding to all of those emails, or completing all of the things on a to-do list can be difficult, but is also rewarding for yourself and those that you interact with – plus it is an important reflection of the person you are working for.

    Anita and Jackie were asked for advice for women in the early stages of their career. Jackie said to “work your heart out” and be a sponge if possible – “but at the same time, make sure that you have work-life balance”. She said that setting boundaries shows your employer that you have a sense of discipline and thoughtfulness. Jackie feels that giving oneself time to reflect is essential for a sound mind. Anita said that your first job isn’t your last, and that you are building your skills and your resume for your future career.  Always networking and keeping your eyes open are lifelong skills to have.  It can take time to achieve a proper work-life balance, but doing your best at your job and earning a good reputation for caring about your work are crucial characteristics in the workplace.

    The floor was then opened up to questions. Megan, an MPA student in DC, asked Jackie and Anita which things that they wished that they did better while starting out in their careers. Anita advised that you should be prepared, but recognize you can’t anticipate everything. If you don’t have the answer to something, be resourceful enough to find out the answer and seek guidance from the correct people. Jackie and Anita agreed that the people that always say “yes” don’t always get everything done, and that honesty is the best policy.

    Overall, it was an empowering evening for the women congressional staff members that attended.  In addition to being glad to see each other again after quite some time, Anita and Jackie loved having the opportunity to meet young women who are at the beginning of their DC careers and sharing the example of bipartisanship. One of the most important lessons of the evening was hearing how these two women – representing different parties and political philosophies worked so closely with each other during the presidential transition of 2009 to ensure the smoothest possible start for the new Administration.

    -Alexandra Thornton, Graduate Student Assistant



  • The Library of Congress National Book Festival – Sept. 21 & 22, 2013 

    The Library’s estimate for attendance this year was about 200,000 people

    The Library’s estimate for attendance this year was about 200,000 people

    The Library of Congress National Book Festival is one of the legacies of First Lady Laura Bush. A former librarian and public school teacher, Mrs. Bush made reading initiatives for children a top priority of the Bush administration and held literary symposia and author-related events throughout her time in office. The National Book Festival is perhaps the best known of her many initiatives to promote books and reading.

    First Lady Laura Bush greets festival-goers in 2001 (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, October 2001)

    First Lady Laura Bush greets festival-goers in 2001 (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, October 2001)

    Mrs. Bush launched her first book festival in 1996 as first lady of Texas. The Texas Book Festival was so successful that when her husband, George W. Bush, became president, she decided to use her platform as U.S. first lady to introduce the book festival tradition to the entire nation. With the Library of Congress as partner, the first National Book Festival took place on September 8, 2001. The Library estimated that between 25,000 and 30,000 people attended it.

    Mary Jordan of the Washington Post interviewed Linda Ronstadt about her memoir and asked about touring in the freewheeling ‘60s and ‘70s. ‘My addiction has always been reading,’ said Ronstadt.

    Festival-goers wait for a book signing by Linda Ronstadt. Mary Jordan of the Washington Post interviewed Ronstadt about her memoir and asked about touring in the freewheeling ‘60s and ‘70s. ‘My addiction has always been reading,’ said Ronstadt.

    The Library of Congress National Book Festival is a free event that takes place on the National Mall each year on a weekend in early autumn. This year’s festival was held on September 21st and 22nd. Participants had the opportunity to listen to in-depth interviews with authors like Linda Ronstadt, Lynda Barry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Khaled Hosseini and others. A tent was on premises where festival-goers could buy books to have them signed.

    -Lisa Moscatiello, Research Assistant

    Tags: , Laura Bush, National Book Festival   

  • Young Women’s Leadership Program – Aug. 19, 2013 

    Anita McBride and Del. Barbara Comstock (VA) converse with junior high and high school girls in the Young Women’s Leadership Program

    Anita McBride and Del. Barbara Comstock (VA) converse with junior high and high school girls in the Young Women’s Leadership Program

    Anita B. McBride is Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC. Prior to AU, Anita served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush from 2005 – 2009. In addition to her work at American University, Anita is a senior advisor to the George W. Bush Institute and is on the board of several organizations including the White House Historical Association, the US Afghan Women’s Council, and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship.

    On Monday, August 19th, Anita was invited to speak to the Young Women’s Leadership Program, a summer initiative developed by Delegate Barbara Comstock, who represents Virginia’s 34th district. The program is designed for junior high and high school girls in the Northern Virginia area. There are about 60 girls in this nonpartisan program. These girls have the opportunity to convene in a casual setting and meet women leaders and discuss career fields such as government, medicine, and technology. The girls and Anita sat in a large circle to allow for more meaningful and intimate conversation. Delegate Comstock said that these events are designed to be similar to the “Lean In” TED talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The afternoon began with Delegate Comstock stating that “women in the world crave opportunities like this, and you can never start too young to prepare for your future.”

    Anita started by talking about how she is the child of immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from college. Her path in politics was not planned. During her time at the University of Connecticut, Anita was enrolled in premed and wanted to pursue a career in geriatrics to honor the grandparents that raised her. However, a study abroad program to Florence, Italy caused a change and pivot of interests. During that year abroad in 1979, American hostages were taken in Iran, and Anita experienced how people were celebrating this act rather than protesting for the Americans’ release. Growing up with a strong sense of patriotism and a belief in American promise and opportunity, she was unsettled by this reaction. Upon returning to the United States, Anita changed her major to international studies and decided to get involved in the 1980 presidential campaign for Ronald Reagan. Her experience as a phone bank volunteer sparked a lifelong interest in political participation. She later on moved to DC when President Reagan took office, finished her degree at American University, and was granted a valuable internship at the Department of Commerce.

    Later in 1984, after volunteering again for Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign, Anita was offered a job in the White House. She explained that it was one of the lowest positions on the totem pole, but it was a foot in the door, and she saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime. Anita read the mail that came in for President Reagan and identified letters that he would read and respond to during his weekends at Camp David. She explained how this was an important link between the American people and their president, most of whom would never meet him. This job led her to other opportunities in the White House over the next eight years gaining valuable skills in management and administration of the White House complex.

    After a hiatus in the private sector, she returned to the White House in 2001 to assist in the transition of the new administration of President George W. Bush. She held several positions in the Administration at the White House and at the U.S. State Department. In 2004, First Lady Laura Bush selected Anita to be her chief of staff. Mrs. Bush was looking for someone who understood how the White House was run but could also help her develop a broader global platform. At the time she was selected, Anita had been working part-time at the state department, and was the mother of two young children, four and seven years old. This was her opportunity to “lean in” and go full throttle into this new, exciting position. Over the next four years, Anita helped develop and execute Mrs. Bush’s travel to nearly 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia, the Middle East, the refugee camps on Thai-Burma border, and all fifty states.

    Anita’s service in the White House over two decades and three administrations, especially her work with First Lady Laura Bush, helped form her future career interests and choices. At American University, she directs programming and national conferences on the legacies of America’s first ladies and their historical influence on politics, policy and global diplomacy. Additionally, she has cofounded the African First Ladies Initiative, which seeks to strengthen the offices of the first ladies of Africa. Although her path was not traditional, Anita stressed that everyone finds his or her way differently, and that the combination of hard work, pursuing a good education, and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way is a formula for success and professional fulfillment.

    Anita finished her talk by offering some thoughts and advice from her own experiences. She said that every step you take leads to something else, and the pivots that we take along the way are essential for personal growth. Anita stressed that openness to change and indirect paths is so important. Before she opened it up to questions and discussion, Anita said most of all, “Thank your parents, your families, and your teachers.” She also stated that “building networks are important for the rest of your lives, always your best and go above and beyond of what may be required from you, and people will want you on their team.”

    Caitlyn, a student from Northern Virginia, asked Anita how she handled setbacks. Anita said that when you hit a plateau, you realize that something may not be so fun, but you have to make it a learning experience. Gianna, also a student, asked what Anita’s most rewarding White House experience was. Anita said that it was traveling the United States with Mrs. Bush, and “getting to see our incredible country, how people support their communities, and being reminded how Americans are the most compassionate people on Earth, always the first to respond to needs at home and abroad.” It isn’t widely known, but Mrs. Bush traveled to the Gulf Coast 25 times after Hurricane Katrina to work alongside people rebuilding their communities.

    Overall, it was an inspiring afternoon spent with bright middle school and high school girls, Delegate Barbara Comstock, and Anita McBride. The fact that this program exists is wonderful, and I hope that similar programs start popping up around the United States to inspire, educate, and empower young girls.

    • Alexandra Thornton, Graduate Student Assistant

    Tags: , , Del. Barbara Comstock, Young Women's Leadership Program   

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