America was under attack. But the president didn't know it yet.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Andrew Card, then-White House Chief of Staff, whispered two things to President Bush as he sat in a classroom of second graders in Sarasota, Fla.
"I told him, 'A second plane has hit the second building. America is under attack,'" Card said. "I then stepped away from the President so he could not ask me questions or have a dialogue."
Cox Auditorium was filled Friday as Card discussed the events of 9/11 and his experiences working with former President George W. Bush. Card's lecture was part of the Pursuit Leadership Series hosted by the College of Communication and Information.
"I wanted to be a Chief of Staff where no one knew my name, but that all changed on September 11 when I whispered in the president's ear," Card said.
An engineer by training, Card ran for local office in Massachusetts two months after he graduated from college. After serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975-83, Card worked in the administrations of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
As the president's most powerful advisor and closest confidant, Card said the position of White House Chief of Staff is "not a job, but a commitment."
"I started work at 5:30 in the morning and stayed up until the president went to bed," Card said. "It wasn't unusual to get a call from the Situation Room or the Speaker of the Senate's office about a problem they were having. I used to sleep with my Blackberry on my chest, ready to answer it in the middle of the night."
Card explained on average, Chiefs of Staff remain on the job for 23 months. Card worked with President Bush for five years and six months.
"I'm kind of old school," Card said. "I truly believe that if the president asks you to do something, you might try to talk him out of it, but ultimately you say yes."
As Chief of Staff, a role Card admits he "stumbled into," he watched President Bush make many difficult decisions.
"I did not agree with every decision he made, but I respected how he made the decisions and I felt comfortable helping to implement those decisions," Card said. "If I ever felt compromised in my own morals, I would have quietly stepped down from my role as Chief of Staff."
Megan Eaton, a junior in political science and member of ROTC, appreciated Card's statements on having the confidence to lead.
"If you're going to have a job in any workforce, you have to have confidence in yourself and the people who work under you," said Eaton, who plans to join the air force after graduation. "In our second year, we're put in charge of at least ten cadets, so we have to have confidence in our ability to lead them around. If they have questions, we have to be able to answer those questions."
Addressing a question from a student in the audience, Card offered advice to UT students and American citizens at large.
"There is no greater call than the call of public service," Card said. "Know the political process. The government is a partner in every business in America, a partner to every individual. Shouldn't you know your partner?"