Reflecting on President George H.W. Bush's Leadership and Legacy

Joe Harvey, Head of School

Last week the nation paused to remember and honor President George H.W. Bush, who died at age 94. Service to his country defined much of President Bush's life; he served as a Navy pilot, a member of Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president to President Reagan. The last U.S. president to serve in World War II, Mr. Bush was known for being a skillful leader and a warm, courteous person utterly committed to his family.

There is much to understand and reflect on when considering a leader like President Bush, who served in that role in a rapidly changing world that included the end of the Cold War, the continued rise of conflict in the Middle East, and economic and social justice challenges at home in the United States.

While acknowledging the complexity of President Bush's legacy, his commitment to serve something larger than himself is such an important standard for us today. I find myself reflecting on three specific elements of President Bush's leadership that remain relevant goals for us at Mark Day.

The first is the commitment to global cooperation and coalition building. President Bush understood that the world is a global community and that our own safety and success depend upon the active, often difficult work of building and strengthening ties with others across the globe. Pursuing a me-first approach runs counter to the interdependent nature of our global community today and leads only to isolation. Our school's intentional commitment to global partners reflects this value. Every child at Mark Day grows up not only forging relationships with people from China, Costa Rica, and South Africa, but also learning better perspective-taking and critical thinking skills that come from working together in such diversity.

Second is President Bush's leadership in helping to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which created a market-based approach to reducing air pollution. "Every city in America should have clean air," President Bush said as he signed the amendments into law. The bill, which passed the Senate 89-10 and the House 401-25, is under threat today as part of a broader attack on clean air and water regulations. Predictions about the accelerating rate of climate change and its implications for life on earth are only getting worse, and there has never been a clearer mandate for bipartisan support of local, national, and global cooperation in changing human behavior to preserve the ecosystem that sustains us. At Mark Day our students learn to be practicing scientists, researchers, and communicators who convey compelling messages in person and via tools they develop in our award-winning Media & Information Literacy Program. Our communities need the kind of environmental leadership and local and global collaboration Mark Day students develop here.

Third, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990. This landmark legislation sought to guarantee that all citizens not only have equitable access to employment but full participation in every aspect of American life, regardless of physical or mental disability. Seen as building upon the protections extended by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA was a crucial step in making our nation a more inclusive one. Valuing each individual and celebrating each person for their unique contributions to our community are core values here at Mark Day. To always seek inclusion rather than exclusion and to safeguard the rights of all people are legacies of the ADA. Our students learn to actively include others through studying within a diverse and inclusive community, through practicing the Seven Pillars of Character, through our Social and Emotional Literacy curriculum, through sustained community engagement projects, and more.

We may respectfully debate and disagree with elements of President George H.W. Bush's legacy and leadership. But as we take a moment to honor his life and mark his passing, we might also reflect on the times when he led toward a higher standard in global cooperation, environmental protection, and inclusive practices--and use those memories to propel ourselves toward higher standards in our work together today.