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Sarah Huckabee Sanders: From Ouachita to the White House
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, press secretary in the administration of President Donald Trump, answers reporters' questions at a news conference at The White House in Washington. Reuters photo

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: From Ouachita to the White House

Sep 11, 2017

Margaret Colson
Arkansas Baptist News

WASHINGTON – While the election of former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton as president in 1992 will go down in history as perhaps the most famous Baptist from the Natural State to occupy the White House, the naming of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as press secretary in the administration of President Donald Trump is certainly generating the most headlines today.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a student at Ouachita Baptist University.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a student at Ouachita Baptist University.


Sanders, a native Arkansan and graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, became only the third woman in U.S. history to serve as White House press secretary on July 21. She replaced embattled press secretary Sean Spicer in the high profile role.

As the daughter of former two-term Arkansas governor, pastor and presidential contender Mike Huckabee, Sanders grew up in the world of politics, becoming involved in her father’s campaign for Arkansas governor even as a young girl knocking on doors and putting up yard signs. Through the years she refined her political savvy, serving as her father’s campaign manager in his bid for U.S. president in the most recent election and then as a senior advisor to then-presidential candidate Trump after Huckabee withdrew from the race.

In a recent podcast in which 34-year-old Sanders was interviewed by Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, Floyd described Sanders as “one of the most powerful young women in America. She is fearless … quick on her feet ... a rising star in the administration.”

Speaking to Floyd in the podcast, Sanders said her role in the White House is an “absolute privilege; it’s an honor to be here. My goal is every day to never forget that – to walk in and be reminded of how grateful I am to be here.”

She credits her role in the White House “not because of anything [I] did but certainly by the grace of God and so many other people who: one, helped get the president elected and two, helped [me] be … blessed enough to be part of his administration.”

Rising to such a strategic national role at a relatively young age, Sanders said she is grateful for her parents, brothers and husband, who are all “incredibly supportive.”

Her parents, she said, encourage her to “be myself … be true to myself and be faithful. Everything else will fall into place if I do those things.”

She also quickly acknowledges that her college years at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) “shaped a lot of who I became as an adult and helped prepare me – in ways I didn’t even know at the time – for life and what was next. I want to give credit to my alma mater for helping push me and for the friends that I made there.”

Sanders earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ouachita in 2004, with a major in political science and a minor in mass communications. While on campus, Sanders was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including the student senate, college Republicans and a servant-leadership program. She was also named outstanding senior woman, an award voted on annually by OBU faculty.

“Sarah left Ouachita well-prepared for her career in politics and specifically political communications,” said Jon Merryman, Ouachita director of alumni relations.

One of Sanders’ professors, Hal Bass, Ouachita professor emeritus of political science, recalls his young student as “bright, poised, articulate, responsible, a student leader, and lots of fun. I think all of these attributes are on display in her current role.”

Her liberal arts education at Ouachita “contributed to her ability to address, with confidence and competence, an extraordinarily wide variety of topics and issues. She came to campus with far more insight into the political world than most of her peers. Still, in her political science courses, she became even more knowledgeable about American government and politics. I believe her communications courses advanced her presentation skills. She is the chief intermediary between the president and the media, and her college experience enhanced her knowledge of both,” Bass said.

As the “chief intermediary,” Sanders said her goal each day is “to reflect the president’s message and … agenda,” describing the president as a man who is “incredibly smart,” one who “has the ability to take in an enormous amount of information very quickly and make a decision.”

Also, she said that the president “has a bigger heart than some people give him credit for.”
In her role as White House press secretary, she said she strives to be “truthful, honest and transparent,” keeping in mind that she has three young children at home and that she wants “anything that I say … to be something that I would want them to be comfortable hearing and something that I would never have to explain or apologize to them for.”

Her children, she said, also help her keep a balance in her hectic life in Washington, D.C.
“Being a mom of toddlers has helped me to master the ability to multitask,” she said. She blocks off time to be with her family, setting aside her phone and engaging her children in conversation. “It makes me not just a better mom but a better person when I have those kinds of reminders of what’s really important and what my priorities are,” she said.

In today’s world of 24-hour news cycles, little if any “accountability” for many media professionals, and assertions of fake news, Sanders counsels Americans to do their own research into what is being presented as news. “Look at the facts instead of the commentary,” she said, and make decisions based upon documented facts.

Having risen through the ranks from lowly campaign positions to an influential role in the White House, Sanders wants to reflect humility and recognize her roots, noting that “to lead by example” is a key leadership lesson she has learned.

“Never ask anybody to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself or that you haven’t done. It helps to remember all of those things that I was doing at 16, 17, 22,” said Sanders, who was named one of Time magazine’s top 40 under 40 in politics in 2010, when she was still in her twenties.

Sanders is “not intimidated; she stands strongly; speaks clearly. She really is amazing,” said Floyd.

To listen to Floyd’s conversation with Sanders in its entirety, visitronniefloyd.com.

Contact Margaret Colson at margaret@arkansasbaptist.org.

 

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