Archive for Sunday, April 29, 1990

CHOICES AND CHALLENGES

April 29, 1990

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Criticism has been unfairly leveled at Barbara Bush by a group of Wellesley College students protesting her selection as commencement speaker.

After the announcement was made, students circulated a petition saying that ``to honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contradicts what we have been taught over our years at Wellesley.''

Wellesley apparently has taught these women to be strong and independent. It has told them not to be afraid to pursue their own accomplishments, set their own goals and speak out for what they believe. What the students circulating the petition may be overlooking is how well that philosophy fits the life of Barbara Bush.

The first lady is of a different generation than the Wellesley women she is scheduled to address. The primary goal many women set for themselves in Mrs. Bush's generation was to have a family and a successful marriage. Within that context, Mrs. Bush certainly accomplished something worthwhile.

She not only nurtured a family but offered support to a man who eventually became president of the United States. And she carved a niche for herself through volunteer activities and political campaigns. Her accomplishments may be tied to her husband, but they certainly were not automatic. Yes, her husband is president, but Barbara Bush's ability to accomplish goals and promote change is perhaps as much tied to her own personality and drive as it is to the man she married. Not every first lady has enjoyed as much success and popularity as Barbara Bush.

Another facet of the Wellesley complaint is that it ignores one of the major tenets of the women's movement it apparently is trying to support: the right of women to choose. That means the right not only to choose an ambitious career but also to choose a more traditional role. Sometimes it means giving a woman the right to choose different paths at different times in her life. One part of her life might be directed to child-rearing, while another portion is dedicated to the workplace or community service.

It is true that Barbara Bush has been graced with choices that many women would envy. She has lived a relatively privileged life, financially and socially. But it hasn't been without hardship, including long separations from her husband, the death of a young daughter and other challenges.

By no measure, however, should Barbara Bush's life be considered a failure. The options she faced were far different from those open to new Wellesley graduates. But she has tackled her life with the same determination and spirit the graduates seem already to possess and a measure of grace that they may learn in time.

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