The Presidential Leadership Scholars continue to increase the breadth and depth of their impact around the world. From sharing stories of triumph and devastation in Afghanistan to advocating against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, the work of our Scholars has never been more important than in 2021. Take a look back at some of the most important and impactful moments.


Dr. Jay Bhatt (2016) and Dr. Kavita Patel (2015) wrote an opinion piece for ABC News on overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

“Overcoming vaccine hesitancy requires time, commitment and meeting communities where they are at. We are at a critical moment and delivering on vaccinations in communities disproportionately affected will go a long way in beating COVID-19.”


Virginia Buckingham (2015) shared lessons in resilience from the forefront of 9/11 in The Hill’s Changing America.

“After 9/11, I came to understand that, like that bottle, I was changed forever. Just as surely as the health care workers on the frontlines will be. Or the grown child unable to spare their elderly parent from a virus-ravaged nursing home. Or the governor making the hard call of shutting down businesses that may never reopen. We will all be changed forever by this pandemic, yet, like sea glass, what remains will be of great value, and capable of bringing meaning and joy. Might that not be a different way, a truer way, of defining resilience?”


Dr. Sunny Jha (2018), Dr. Loren Robinson (2018), and Dr. Jay Bhatt (2016) spoke with the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Andrew Kaufmann on the Strategerist podcast about the #ThisIsOurShot campaign – a grassroots movement of healthcare heroes and allies that aims to build vaccine-trust for a COVID-free world and combat misinformation by elevating the voices of healthcare heroes.


President George W. Bush painted the nine incredible Presidential Leadership Scholars listed below in his newest book, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants, which was published in April. The book features 43 four-color oil portraits of individuals who exemplify our proud history as a nation of immigrants.

Mark Haidar (2019), Sumera Haque (2019), Alfia Ilicheva (2019), Dilafruz Khonikboyeva (2019), Roya Mahboob (2019), Thear Suzuki (2019), Tina Tran (2018), Ezinne Uzo-Okoro (2018), Mariam Memarsadeghi (2017)


We were thrilled to open applications for the Presidential Leadership Scholars’ eighth class in the spring, and we were even more thrilled that our PLS Alumni helped spread the word far and wide.

“As a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar, I learned leadership lessons directly from President Bush, President Clinton, and their staffs. It was a transformative experience, and I made some of the best friendships of my life.” – Sheril R. Kirshenbaum (2015)


Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced that Christina Grant (2018) would serve as the District’s state superintendent of education.

Grant “is a seasoned leader and manager with two decades of experience overseeing complex budgets, accountability systems, and policy and politics across several organizations,” Bowser said in a news release.


Renée DiResta (2017) participated in a panel discussion on disinformation and democracy as part of the Reimagining American Democracy series hosted by the Bush Institute, Freedom House, Issue One, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“One of the challenges facing us today is the loss of trust and the loss of confidence in a lot of the foundational elements of the democratic process.”


Thear Suzuki (2019) was presented with the Corporate Leadership Excellence award at the 2021 D CEO Nonprofit & Corporate Citizenship Awards and profiled in D Magazine’s article, “A New Era of Corporate Citizenship.”

“Suzuki champions development programs that build inclusive, innovative leaders for the 21st century; her mission, she says, is to inspire courageous actions in others so they can lead more impactful lives.”


Roya Mahboob (2019) was featured in Vogue’s, “Stories of Triumph and Heartbreak from Nine Women Involved in the Evacuation of Afghanistan.”

“The girls in Doha are happy because they are in a safer place and they can still be involved with robotics competitions. The students who are in Afghanistan, though, worry about their future. One of them called me and said that we were going to forget them. That was hard for me to hear, but I’ve made a promise to my students. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get them out, but I promise that they’re not going to be forgotten.”


Gerardo Interiano (2017) gave an update on his Personal Leadership Project, the Hispanic Impact Fund, and reflected on how PLS has contributed to its recent success.

“From the lessons that we learned around fundraising and relationship building to advocacy and succession planning, PLS was instrumental in ensuring that we set a solid foundation for the Hispanic Impact Fund to launch and thrive over time. This month, the Austin Community Foundation announced that in 2022 they will distribute $355,000 to 28 Latino-serving nonprofits in Central Texas and thereby surpass over $1 million donated to the community since its inception just four years ago.”


We asked the Presidential Leadership Scholars to share their thoughts on gratitude and what they are most thankful for as they think back on the past year.

“Attempting to reconfigure centuries-old ideas and institutions is not for the faint of heart, and practicing gratitude is essential when the scale of the problem is so large and deep. I draw inspiration from the wisdom of Nelson Mandela’s words: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” This year has convinced me that we are closer than we ever have been to getting it done.” – Priti Krishtel (2020)


Dr. Joe Sakran (2019) and Dr. Megan L. Ranney wrote about what actually worries U.S. doctors about the Omicron variant in TIME.

“To truly support the mental health and well being of our frontline workers requires more than just COVID-19 precautions. While no one wakes up expecting to be injured or sick, we can tell you that people do expect to be taken care of if they are. And we of course want to be there for you. But we need a little help, to make it happen.”