first lady

UT President William Powers Jr. attended the president’s and first lady’s Call to Action on College Opportunity event Thursday in Washington D.C.

According to Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, the event focused on increasing the opportunity to attend college for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds by asking leaders from universities, businesses and communities to make commitments to address this issue in 2014. Sperling said the event “would not be the destination; it would be the launch.”

In a list released by the White House containing commitments from all of the event’s participants, Powers outlined a variety of pledges he made on behalf of UT. His commitments focus primarily on expanding existing programs to increase college opportunities for youth in underprivileged areas.

Powers’ pledges include a plan to offer students financial aid in exchange for maintaining good standing in the University Leadership Network, a program focused on developing academic and leadership skills. He also included a promise to expand the Path to Admission through Co-Enrollment program to more than 500 students, which allows students to take most of their classes at a community college and one course at UT per semester.

On his first night in the White House, just a week after President Nixon’s unprecedented resignation from office, Steven Ford, Gerald Ford’s then 18-year-old son, sneaked his stereo onto the roof of the White House so that he could blast Led Zeppelin. Former first lady Laura Bush would have made a different selection. Her daughter, Barbara Bush, said the 43rd president’s wife is more of a Bob Marley fan.

Jenna Bush Hager, Barbara Bush’s twin sister and daughter of President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, said her mother’s musical preferences serve as just one of the many sides to her personality the media rarely portrayed.

“I think people thought of our mom as kind of a cookie-cutter mother, because it’s much easier to see people as one-dimensional,” Hager said. “She’s a very strong lady. She just happens not to shout.”

Candid revelations about musical preferences were just a few of the personal anecdotes that surfaced at “The Enduring Legacies of America’s First Ladies,” an event hosted Friday by the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. The event featured three generations of women in the Bush family as well as Steven Ford, Lynda Johnson Robb, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s daughter and several former White House staffers.

Speakers examined the role of the first lady, a position that former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers said changes with each new administration.

Ford said a major component of his mother’s legacy was the way she brought her personal struggles with breast cancer and alcoholism to public attention.

“The moment she raised her hand and said, ‘My name is Betty, and I’m an alcoholic,’ she changed the stereotypes about the nature of the disease,” Ford said.

Barbara Bush described one of her mother’s roles as “comforter-in-chief” in the days following 9/11.

Laura Bush said this role as comforter was instinctive.

“I myself wanted the comfort of my mother’s voice,” Laura Bush said. “I knew kids everywhere would want that.”

Although both Barbara Bush and Ford highlighted events specific to their mother’s personal lives and events that occurred during their husband’s administrations, certain aspects of the first lady position remain constant. Lisa Caputo, Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary, said Clinton took a very public role in working with her husband on his health care initiatives and welfare reform, but she was not the first first lady to work with policy issues.

“[Clinton] was the first first lady to have an office in the West Wing,” Caputo said. “We were very up front about the fact that she was going to play a policy role and be an advisor to her husband, but in reality, we look throughout history and practically all first ladies have had a role in influencing policy. It just wasn’t at the forefront.”

Printed on Friday, November 16, 2012 as: Presidents' families share insights on first lady's public, personal role 

Elyse Sens talks to customers about the water stones she creates and sells at the Lady Bird Johnson Arts and Artisans Festival, Sunday afternoon. The festival was held in honor of Lady Bird Johnson's 100th birthday and featured various local artists that highlight nature in Texas with their work.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

The annual Lady Bird Johnson Artists and Artisans Festival allows people to view exhibits and purchase artwork that highlights the beauty of Texas’ environment.

Over 20 art vendors and several hundred visitors attended the event, which took place at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center on Saturday and Sunday. The exhibits featured many different styles of art, including watercolor, origami and mixed media collage.

Joseph Hammer, director of product marketing at the Wildflower Center, said the festival serves as part of the center’s commemoration of the former first lady’s centennial.

“She would have been 100 this year, so we have special events to commemorate her life,” he said. “She liked art and collected some herself, and this event gave her a chance to interact with people who shared those sentiments.”

Hammer said the festival allows people to view nature in a different way than they normally would.

“It’s kind of ironic. Sometimes people see more when they look at a painting than when they look at the real thing,” he said. “I’ve often thought some of these wildflower paintings make people view plants a completely new way.”

Hammer said the festival displays the wildflower center’s values in a fun, interactive way that many people enjoy.

“We want to help people appreciate the art in nature,” he said. “It’s great that people recognize this is an important place. This center is not just about Austin or Texas, it’s part of a North American environmental organization and we pride ourselves on that.”

Sue Kemp, an artist and watercolor paint instructor in the art school of Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria, has shown her paintings at the festival for more than 10 years. Kemp said depictions of nature in artwork can touch people deeply.

“Art allows people to discover a story within a piece they relate to and find a deeper meaning,” she said. “In turn, nature lets you get away from the business of life and routine of things.”

Kemp said artwork that depicts nature can affect someone positively just as much as the real thing.

“In between our busy lives, nature is a good escape — whether you do so in person or through artwork,” she said.

Kelly Fisher, who attended the festival, said she was blown away by the different artistic styles present at the festival and how they portrayed nature.

“It’s great to see local Texas artists here, I’ve been very impressed,” she said. “It’s nice to see what people are doing locally with materials and the wildlife here.”

Fisher said having nature and artwork depicted side-by-side helps people take a close look at its beauty and appreciate all its qualities.

“It’s nice to be able to have the inspiration and product of human creativity close by each other,” Fisher said. “It’s great to be here and have the opportunity to view nature in such a unique way.”

Printed on Monday, March 19, 2012 as: Local art festival displays Texas nature

A military honor guard carries the casket of former first lady Betty Ford into her funeral at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Thousands of well-wishers from seniors to toddlers waved, offered crisp salutes or held their hands over their hearts in a sometimes tearful tribute to Betty Ford, as a motorcade carrying her body zigzagged from a California desert church to Palm Springs airport for her final flight home to Michigan.

The black Cadillac hearse was escorted by nearly a dozen California Highway Patrol cars and other vehicles during the 25-minute trip to the airport, where Ford’s mahogany casket, covered in flowers, was placed aboard an Air Force jet sometimes used by Vice President Joe Biden.

Shortly after 10 a.m. the plane, also carrying Ford’s family, departed for Grand Rapids, Mich., and landed about 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time where the former first lady was to be laid to rest Thursday next to her late husband President Gerald R. Ford at his presidential museum.

During the trip to the airport, which took the hearse through Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and other desert resort cities, people lined the streets and hoisted American flags to say goodbye to the beloved former first lady, who died Friday at age 93. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

The motorcade left from St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, where 800 people, including former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama had gathered Tuesday for a memorial service.

After another memorial Thursday in Grand Rapids, Ford is to be buried at her husband’s presidential museum. Gerald Ford died in 2006.

Following Tuesday’s service, the public was invited into the church to pay respects to Ford, and thousands dropped by.
“The family was overwhelmed with the number of people,” family spokeswoman Barbara Lewandrowski said. “They are so heartfelt and grateful.”

Thousands more turned out for Wednesday’s motorcade, including people who sat along the route in beach chairs, some shirtless in the warm, sunny weather.

A dozen senior citizens seated in wheelchairs held up a sign reading “Monterey Palms Healthcare” as the hearse passed by. In front of Rancho Mirage Fire Station No. 1, firefighters stood outside, with emergency lights blinking on their vehicles.

A woman on a golf course stopped her cart and held her hand over her heart, while people nearby shouted “Thank you, Betty."

Earlier this month, the USDA, department of agriculture and first lady Michelle Obama unveiled MyPlate, which will replace the food pyramid. Photos courtesy of USDA.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and first lady Michelle Obama unveiled MyPlate, a national nutritional guideline that would replace the food pyramid and bear the official seal of approval from the USDA. MyPlate was created in part by Obama’s campaign against obesity. It does away with the prescribed portion sizes for different food groups, instead using the visual of a dinner plate divided into four sections. Half of the plate is designated for fruits and vegetables, with grains and proteins making up the rest. To the side is a smaller circle for dairy products.

This redesign comes at a crucial point in American health statistics. In January, the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services released the seventh edition of their “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which classifies more than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States as overweight or obese. MyPlate’s ascension and the food pyramid’s retirement reflect the current American dietary landscape and our predilection for visually vibrant and deceptively simple design. Together, they don’t necessarily communicate eating healthily as simply or as effectively as many may hope.

The U.S. first started growing concerned about the nutrition and health of Americans in the 1970s, following the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. And yet, it seems no amount of information about dietary health presented in any fashion is getting through. We’re as an unhealthy as ever.

How is it in this constantly connected information age we’re still eating so poorly, even as the evidence is ostensibly right in front of us? Because all the nuances of choosing the right food and knowing what’s in them is too complex to be boiled down into a simple graphic.

The original design, created in 1992 and the most familiar to young people, has been maligned by health experts, such as Harvard nutritionist Dr. Walter Willet (a longtime critic of the USDA’s health guidelines), for being too vague and not based on the most up-to-date science. The revamped pyramid created in 2005, called MyPyramid, was essentially the same as the previous pyramid, just turned on its side. MyPyramid featured an even more abstract design — most public displays did not even include pictures of food. MyPyramid also included a stairs element alongside the pyramid that is supposed to symbolize the need for physical activity, but the ambiguity of the design made it difficult to convey that information.

Willet and the Harvard School of Public Health (where he is the chair of the department of nutrition) have been critical of the food pyramid and its incoherence, lack of current data and heavy influence from the food industry. That influence that is difficult to ignore because the food pyramids and MyPlate were created in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the advocacy of U.S. food producers.

While the influence may not be as overt in MyPlate, it still doesn’t do enough to provide the information most people need to make good decisions about the food they eat.

While it’s easy to see why the USDA and the first lady wanted to streamline the process of choosing your food as much as possible for Americans with busy lives, MyPlate may be too simplified. Based purely on the visual of the plate, it would seem that, as long as you fulfill the proper portions requirement, anything you choose is fair game: there’s no differentiation as to what’s best within in each food group.

For example, while MyPlate recommends about a fourth of your plate consist of protein, not all proteins are created equally and some are healthier than others. Harvard outlines how red and processed meats are unhealthy compared to proteins such as fish, poultry and beans.

Despite years of scientific research and reporting, there continues to be a disparity between what we know to be healthy and the actual quality of the food we produce. A paper, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2010 and conducted by doctors from the National Cancer Institute, concluded that the quality of the current U.S. food supply is insufficient to meet federal recommendations.

This information is all readily available, but often densely packed. The Internet is filled with helpful and relevant health information, but as the first lady notes, most people don’t have the time or interest to track that information down and implement it. Graphics like MyPlate are created for their ease of use and understanding.

While the goals of MyPlate are well-intentioned and admirable, it glosses over crucial information about dietary health. The easiest way to communicate what foods are healthy may not be in a colorful graph or chart, but in old-fashioned education. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of School Health, middle school students instructed in a comprehensive healthy lifestyle education program showed improvement in their eating behaviors and perhaps most promisingly, the kids felt more confident in their ability to eat healthily.

Published on Monday, June 20, 2011 as: MyPlate guidelines visually attractive, lacking information