A talk with former President George W. Bush's Press Secretary and CSU-Pueblo powerful alum, Dana Perino
Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is no stranger to Pueblo. In fact, she graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo, then called the University of Southern Colorado, in 1994 and began her climb to one of the most visible media jobs in the country.
Perino is now a featured panelist on the Fox News Channel show, “The Five,” and despite her time in Washington and living on the East Coast, Perino still considers Southern Colorado home.
Perino’s return visit to Pueblo this May centered on her new book, “And the Good News Is…Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side,” which was released in April and has spent several weeks as a New York Times best-seller. The book chronicles her upbringing in rural Wyoming, her move to Colorado and her struggle to find who and what she was meant to be.
On May 22, Perino spoke with Pulp reporters Sara Knuth and Christy Wiabel about her visit to Southern Colorado and what she hopes people will get out of her new book.
PULP: So, are you excited to get back to Southern Colorado?
PERINO: Yes, I am. You know, it’s one of those things that’s hard when you’re on the East Coast, especially with the job that I have. There’s not a lot of flexibility. You can’t work from home when you’re working from the White House or working in television. You have to be there in the office, so I don’t get to come back very often. It’s not easy to get there, as you know. So, yeah, I’m excited to get back. It’s where a lot of my career opportunities were started, right there in Pueblo at the University of Southern Colorado. I know it’s called CSU-Pueblo now. It’s hard for me to remember that though. I have several friends, and you know, I had great professors. I still stay in touch with them.
PULP: Were there any special places in Pueblo that you particularly hung out at that you’re looking forward to getting back to?
PERINO: I won’t have time to visit this time around, but I was a waitress at Café Del Rio. Does that still exist, out at the nature center? Is there a restaurant there still?
PULP: Yes, there is!
PULP: In your book, you talked about when your dad brought you to Pueblo, you didn’t want to be here.
PERINO: I didn’t! I pouted the entire way from Parker to Pueblo. I just looked out the window. I couldn’t even meet his eyes, I was so upset he was making me go look at that school. And immediately upon getting there, I met Glen Miller, who I believe is retired now, and I realized, “Oh, he gets me.”
And then I got the scholarship offer for the speech team. I also think I was smart enough to realize that the practical experience that I could get at the school would lead me to opportunities that I couldn’t get if I went and studied theory anywhere else for four years.
PULP: What advice do you have for students at CSU-Pueblo?
PERINO: I am a big believer, and one of the reasons I wrote this book is I want to make sure people understand that you do not have to have gone to an Ivy League school or an elite university to end up advising the president of the United States in the Oval Office.
But I would say that one of the most important things, depending on what you want in your life, is trust that if you are doing the work, and you’re meeting people, and you’re advancing your skills that you don’t have to have a whole life plan ahead of you, because something is going to come along and change it.
That’s a theme throughout my life. I drove myself crazy making plans, and that’s how I dealt with my anxiety and vulnerabilities. I would make a plan and a list and say, “This is exactly what I’m going to do.” But I could never succeed that way.
I think the most important thing for all college students, first of all if you’re either born in America or if you’ve had an opportunity to be educated in America, the number one best thing that can give you a leg up in the world is that.
Number two, now that you have a college degree, you’ve got a leg up on a lot of competition around the world. And make no mistake, you are no longer just competing for jobs just from people within your state or across the country. We are now in a worldwide competitive market, so you have to think that way, so that leads me to my third thing, which is you have to be willing to move. That doesn’t mean that you can’t move home. You just have to be willing to go and try something different and get out of your comfort zone. I think that risk aversion is one of our biggest problems in America.
PULP: You talk about civility a lot in your book and that it is something that’s missing in our society. How do you think we can get civility back into our discourse?
PERINO: One of the things I loved about writing the book is that my conclusion, after doing all this thinking and experiencing this for a while, is that I don’t have to own anybody else’s comments. I have enough responsibility just being responsible for my own. And civility is a choice, and I decide every morning how I want to be.
Now last night was the first time ever, after O’Reilly, there’s this guy that works for Rand Paul, his name is Sergio Gor, and he tweets something at me like, “Dana takes a cheap shot at Rand Paul,” or something. This is about the NSA spying program of which I know a lot…I did punch back, and I felt that moment of gratification, but it didn’t last very long. Then I sat there going, “I shouldn’t have done that.” So I made a choice to be like that for one moment, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
Some people love to fight all the time, but I think there’s some hope, especially because the next generation of leaders is quite a bit different. If you look at some of the new members of congress and senators, I mean, there actually is some hope. If you look at Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Amy Klobuchar and folks like that…Kirsten Gillibrand is another one, I just feel like their tone and their language are more productive. So perhaps there’s a generational change.
PULP: You also talked about the “quarter life crisis” in your book.
PERINO: It’s actually so interesting to me to watch young women, after they’ve read the book, come up to me and say, “I had no idea I was going through that,” or “I felt like you were speaking right to me.” Everybody seems to go through it, and nobody’s ever really written about it in this way. My point is that I went through it, and I was so lost. And you think, “How could I be so ungrateful for all those things that I had.” I mean, at the time, I had this great job, and everything was going my way, but I was still so anxious about my future. And I didn’t need to be.
So I think the quarter life crisis is just that everyone has got to get through it. You do emerge on the other side.
My favorite piece of advice in the book is that choosing to be loved is not a career limiting decision. I hear a lot of young women that I mentor, sometimes guys too, but women in particular will say, “Well, I’m going to focus on my career for the next eight years, and then I will get married.” It’s not necessarily going to work out that way, so keeping your eyes and ears open for love along the way is really important. Not letting the opportunity pass you by.
I feel like, you know, this book debuted at number one on The New York Times best-seller list. It went down to number three and then went back up to number two which is highly unusual, and I call it “the little book that could.”
The book is appealing all across genders and age groups. That really makes me happy, because I tried not to make it just specific to young women, and I stripped out the gender-specific advice. I like it that I’ve seen so many veterans and active-duty military come through the book signing lines because they want to hear more about George W. Bush.
PULP: Are you thinking about possibly writing another book?
PERINO: I’ll tell you what, I should write a book about my dog. I cannot believe how popular he is. Anywhere I’ve gone across the country people…in fact I had to make an appeal to people from the show. I said, “I’m coming to Florida, and I’m going to beg you, don’t bring any treats or toys for Jasper.” He is so spoiled, and he’s going to get fat. I couldn’t even carry all the stuff that I was given, so I realize that clearly Jasper is more popular than me. I should milk that for a while.