Author, journalist and former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager focused on leadership, her new book and balancing a career and motherhood recently for Sacred Heart University’s Distinguished Leaders Series.
Hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and community members filled the atrium at the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center to hear Hager, a reporter for NBC, discuss her life experiences with University Trustee Katie Burke, senior strategist and chief of staff at Edelman, a communications marketing firm.
Burke first asked Hager what inspired her and her twin sister, Barbara Pierce Bush, to co-author their book, Sisters First.
“Barbara and I have always been aware of how lucky we were to have each other,” Hager said. They were present for each other during the good and bad times, she continued, and having her twin by her side helped when they were 18 years old and heading to college just as their father, George W. Bush, was entering the White House. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We were lucky to have that connection,” she said.
The duo bonded even more when they relived past experiences together as they wrote their book.
Burke next asked Hager to define leadership. “A good leader knows when you’re using your voice to make a difference,” Hager answered, adding that she was raised knowing that having opinions that differed from others was okay. Even she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her sister on everything, she said.
Being a good listener is another trait of a good leader, Hager said. “A good leader listens,” she said, with a reference to her father, someone she admires. Hager said when her sister experienced great heartache, President Bush talked with her daily afterward. “He listened and he would advise, but he mostly listened,” she said.
When the topic turned to Hager’s time as a teacher, she said, “I think teaching is the most important career out there. I don’t think people appreciate teachers enough.”
Hager said she believes speaking on live TV is easier than teaching in America’s inner cities, where she once taught and, if the country as a whole valued teachers, many education problems would be solved. “I’m not sure how we change that way of thinking,” she said, but she encouraged young adults in the audience who are studying education to stick with the “dynamic job” and help make a difference.
Regarding raising her two daughters, Hager said she and her husband, Henry Chase Hager, make sure to be present in the girls’ lives. They also don’t use a lot of technology, and they read to their children often. She said she is aware of the negative aspects of social media and technology, and she puts her phone away around her children and looks at them.
While most would say balancing work and motherhood is no easy task, Hager said she doesn’t put pressure on herself to be perfect. “Being perfect is boring,” she asserted.
Hager answered questions from audience members, responding to one about working with Today Show anchor Hoda Kotb, who she said is just as friendly in person as on television. Hager also touched on her internship for the nonprofit organization UNICEF, explaining that she used her experiences there to inspire other young people.
Hager told students considering journalism careers to put themselves out there, apply to everything, intern wherever possible and be passionate about it.
One student asked how to be a good author. “Write constantly; write all the time,” said Hager, adding that she writes in her journal every morning. “And read; read all the time. If you study good books, you’ll learn to write like that. Also, find out who the best and hardest teachers are and take those courses,” she advised.