She shared some of those opinions during Union's 13th annual Scholarship Banquet at the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson, Tenn.
Bush talked about the eight years she spent in the White House and about how she and her husband George are adjusting to their post-presidential life in Texas.
"When you're married to the president of the United States, you don't worry too much about him leaving his towels on the floor," she said. "But in Dallas, things are different."
Bush said the last few years of history, beginning with her husband's narrow win in 2000, have been a transformative time in the United States and around the world. At the start of their term, Bush said they expected challenges within the nation would be more substantial than international issues.
But then terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, ushering in a new era in world history. Bush talked about her experience that day when she was first informed that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and she remembers her thoughts lying in bed that night. Though she and her family members were safe, "All we could think about were the thousands of Americans who couldn't say the same thing about their own loved ones," she recounted.
Bush also addressed some of the issues that became priorities for her during her time as first lady, such as literacy and women's health care and education.
"I believe that every child in America should learn to read," Bush said. "I believe that literacy is an essential foundation for democracy. I know from my own experience as a reader and a librarian that books have the power not just to move people as individuals, but to shape our journey as a nation."
During her time in the White House, Bush also was an advocate for the rights and freedoms of women, especially women in countries that denied them a voice in their government.
"Research shows that when you educate and empower women, you improve nearly every other aspect of society," Bush said. "By giving women access to education and health care, they not only improve the wellbeing of their own families, but their communities and their countries as well."
The day that she and George left the White House was marked by a wide range of emotions, Bush said, but mostly they felt a solemn pride in the work they had done.
Bush began her speech by quoting John Adams, who once said, "There are two educations -- one should teach us how to make a living, and the other should teach us how to live."
"Since its founding in 1823, Union University has taught its students both," Bush said. "Thanks to Union University's academically challenging curriculum, as well as its focus on practical applications, graduates leave Union prepared for a life of service."
Prior to her address at the civic center, Bush visited the Union campus and spent a few minutes with about 20 student leaders.
"She's got a great presence," said Kristin Tisdale, a junior nursing major from Hendersonville, Tenn. "She's done a lot of great things. Being a first lady, it's definitely a position of not necessarily power, but influence that not many people can have, especially in her field of study of library science."
Micah Roeder, a senior from Earle, Ark., and president of Union's Student Government Association, said, "You always see her on TV and hear stories about her, and it's neat to actually to be able to have a conversation with her.
"She has a love for education and a love for people," Roeder said, "and the way that she pushes herself to help other people is admirable."
Union's Scholarship Banquet drew about 1,700 people and raised about $600,000 for student scholarships, bringing to more than $5 million the total amount that has been raised for student support through the annual banquet.
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.
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