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Bush Cheered

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
       ARTESIA — Former President George W. Bush returned to New Mexico on Thursday and steered clear of politics during a speech to Chase Foundation scholars at Artesia High School.
    But the former president, who resides in neighboring Texas, did share stories about life after the White House with high school seniors and their families.
    "It's good to be back in Artesia and I feel right at home," Bush told a cheering crowd of about 3,000. "Frankly, it's good to be out of Washington."
    He said his new life is a return to simplicity and told a story about walking former first dog Barney in his new Dallas neighborhood. It was the first time he had walked Barney anywhere but that famous address on Pennsylvania Avenue. Not used to anything but the White House lawn, the dog started eyeing the yards of his new Dallas neighbors.
    "There I was, the former president of the United States of America, with a plastic bag in my hand," Bush said. "Life is getting back to normal."
    Bush last visited Artesia in June 2006, when he spoke, as president, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center about border issues and immigration.
    The former president's central theme Thursday was to encourage the Artesia High School students to make the most of every opportunity they were given and then give back to their communities.
    "My call to you is to give it your all," he said.
    Bush also joked with the students, repeating his famous remark during a 2001 graduation ceremony at his alma mater, Yale University, where he received less-than-stellar grades.
    "For you C students, you too can be president," he said.
    Students said after the speech that it was an honor to have Bush attend the event, which recognized 110 Chase Foundation scholars receiving a total of $1.6 million for college costs.
    The Chase Foundation, started in Artesia in 2006 by Mack and Marilyn Chase, gives scholarships to any Artesia student who maintains a 3.0 grade point average or above, a school district official said. More than 300 students have been given scholarships, said foundation director Richard Price.
    Jeffery Heidenreich, a senior headed to New Mexico State University, said he was surprised by how "down-to-earth" Bush seemed.
    Craig Mayberry, who also will attend NMSU, said Bush knew how to relate to common people. "I like the fact that when he speaks, he comes across as a regular person," Mayberry said.
    Bush's only comment on national affairs came when he told a story about an Iraq veteran who had lost both legs. The former president said he believed in invading Iraq "for a reason that I still know was a noble and necessary reason."

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