The Transformation Of Jenna Bush Hager

You might know Jenna Bush Hager as one half of the dynamic duo that makes up "Today With Hoda & Jenna" on NBC. While that's quite the resume flex, it's only one in a long line of major accomplishments and life experiences that led her to where she is now.

Sure, she was born into a certain amount of privilege — not only was she a first daughter when she was barely exiting her teens, but she was a first granddaughter when she was still in grade school — but there's no doubt that Hager has put in the time and hard work, whether it be in school, with philanthropic organizations, or on television. Even through the ups and downs, and especially under the ever-present spotlight and expectations of the American people, she has proudly pushed through. Keep reading for the stunning transformation of Jenna Bush Hager from childhood to 40 years old.

Politics run in the Bush family

President George H. W. Bush, Jenna Bush Hager's grandfather, was a decorated military man and representative to Congress. And yes, after serving two terms as vice president under President Reagan, he became the 41st president of the United States in 1989, when Jenna was just eight years old. His father before him, Prescott Bush, was also in politics, serving as a senator in Connecticut in 1952. In 2020, Jenna opened up to co-host Hoda Kotb on "Today," sharing a list of rules to live by that her grandfather shared with her. She remembered fondly, "[T]hey're all really good ones, like, 'Don't talk all the time. Listen to your mentors and friends and learn from them.'"

Jenna's father, President George W. Bush, would continue the political legacy of the family, taking the helm just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This was only the second time in American history that the son of a president was elected to be commander in chief. Jenna told Kotb in 2021 that she had a relatively normal childhood even though her grandparents were in the White House, and when her father took the presidency, he wanted to maintain that as much as possible. 

Jeb Bush, Jenna's uncle and the only other child of George H.W. to enter politics, was the 43rd Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.

Jenna Bush Hager picked a college near home

Former president George W. Bush is a Texan through and through, so it made sense that at least one of his twin daughters went to college there. That honor went to Jenna Bush Hager, who studied English at the University of Texas in Austin, while Barbara Bush attended Yale University. 

Going to UT wasn't something Jenna did just to please dear old dad. She told NBC News' College Game Plan in 2016, "I think I was a Texas Longhorn fan for my entire life. I always kind of dreamed of going to Texas. And so I think it felt natural." While college can be an exciting time, there's also an uncertainty that comes with being independent for the first time — especially if your dad is about to become president. So, she chose to go to a school that was not only close to home but where she already had an established group of friends. She explained, "I wanted to be protected by them, and I did feel really protected."

Jenna obviously has no regrets about her decision to attend UT Austin. In that aforementioned NBC News interview, she mused that she loved Texas so much, she hoped her daughter would consider attending. 

She wanted to be a typical college kid

While both Jenna Bush Hager and her dad — you know, the 43rd president — wanted her to have a traditional college experience, some might say that was pie in the sky. As Jenna recounted on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," "His whole thing was like, 'Y'all can be normal college kids, you go be you.' And then he realized pretty soon after that really couldn't be normal college kids."

In April of 2001, Jenna was cited for alcohol possession by a minor. Per CBS News, the citation resulted in Jenna pleading no contest and having to attend alcohol awareness classes as well as community service. Us USA Today reported at the time, her next infraction came about a month later when she was caught using a fake ID at a Mexican restaurant. This time her sister, Barbara Bush, was with her. Though Jenna Bush was not served the alcohol, she reportedly ordered a margarita and then presented the fake ID. Of course, this type of activity is prevalent in the area where college students revel in the nightlife, but when you're the daughter of the president, the news organization were only too happy to report her transgressions. 

Jenna later told NBC News' College Game Plan how grateful she was that social media wasn't around then. "I don't think kids should be perfect," she said. "I mean college is really a time, in a safe way, to make mistakes and explore who you are."

Finding her way on the campaign trails

The winter before Jenna Bush Hager was set to graduate, she had a dream that her father lost the election. Not only was the message powerful enough for her to join the campaign trail with George W. Bush, but her sister, Barbara Bush, joined too. As they shared with Vogue in 2004 (via The New York Times), neither of the twins were interested in politics but stepped in purely for the love of their dad.

According to The New York Times, when the Bush twins appeared at the 2004 Republican National Convention, they gave a speech that did not exactly impress speechwriter Mark Katz. With giggles, they mentioned their mother's thoughts on "Sex and the City" and joked about how they knew nothing about politics. Katz told the Times, "The only way the speech could have been more lame was if they had been triplets."

In 2020, Jenna appeared on "What's What Happens Live," sharing a particularly embarrassing moment on the campaign trail. She explained that at the time she was joking with her dad and sister, trying to prove a point that the paparazzi didn't know what was going on in their car. So, of course, she stuck her tongue out the window. Later that day, she saw her gesture on the news. When Cohen asked how her dad reacted, Jenna responded, "His reactions were always filled with grace and love. He wasn't the type to shame us for acting silly."

How she met her future husband

Though Jenna Bush Hager met her husband, Henry Hager, while he was working for George W. Bush, they did not first connect romantically at any sort of campaign event or formal politicians' dinner. Rather, they hit it off at a casual get-together. In 2019, during a "Today" segment, Jenna told Hoda Kotb that friends set the now-couple up at an event where everyone was gathering to watch a football game. When Kotb asked if Henry asked her out that night, she shyly replied. "We smooched." On a 2020 episode, she shared, "I do think one of the reasons why I knew really soon that Henry was the one, was that I was completely myself and he loved it." According to The Guardian, Laura Bush wasn't totally convinced at first, as she apparently didn't think Henry was boyfriend material.

The first lady might have said "I told you so" after the couple's first date, which Jenna described as her worst first date. She told Kotb, "It was with Henry and his car ran out of gas and went backwards and hit the Secret Service." Eventually the two made it past that and made their relationship public, being seen together at events, including appearing together at a White House dinner for Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

She began working as a teacher

After George W. Bush landed his gig in the White House, Jenna Bush Hager was on to her next endeavor. Opting to stay close to Washington D.C., Jenna secured a job at a public school that served a low-income community. While the White House wouldn't share the name of the school back in 2004, The Washington Post reported she worked with Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.

For Jenna's 40th birthday in 2021, the school posted a photo on their Facebook page of some students along with "Ms Jenna," including a birthday message. In addition, the school was included in a special birthday segment on the "Today" show. One former student, Maria Galarce Crain, shared, "I think the most special thing about having Miss Jenna as a teacher was not that she was the president's daughter but that she came to school every day and showed her love for each of the students." The heartfelt tribute was a surprise and left Jenna in tears afterward.

After two years at the school, The Washington Post reported that Jenna would leave the country for a teaching job in Latin America. Ultimately, however, she ended up working for UNICEF. Jenna told Lean In the decision was inspired by her students. She said, "My job for UNICEF, in retrospect, was very similar to teaching. I traveled around Latin America and the Caribbean meeting with children and adolescents living in exclusion, and listened to their stories, and writing about them for UNICEF."

Jenna Bush Hager got into the book game

Jenna Bush Hager's eight-month stint as a UNICEF intern was so life changing, she decided to write a book about one of the women she met while working with the organization. "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope" is a collection of stories about a young woman infected with HIV at birth. Speaking about the book at UNICEF House, she said, "Here's to Ana for having the courage that many kids don't have to share her story because she was the one that encouraged this so that others would know what millions of kids live like all over the world."

It would be a few years before Jenna published another book, but in 2011 she co-authored "Read All About It" with mom Laura Bush. This one was a children's book aimed at inspiring kids to read. Then, in 2016, the mother-daughter duo released "Our Great Big Backyard," a kids' book about a family experiencing national parks and appreciating the outdoors. When the two women appeared on "New York Live" to promote "Big Backyard," the former first lady said, "Every one of us is constantly looking into screens, so it's a message for parents to look up and get your children to look up."

In addition to these books, Jenna also published, "Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss," as well as two other books with her sister, Barbara Bush.

Jenna Bush married Henry Hager

Jenna Bush Hager not only knew Henry Hager was "the one" when she met him, but she was ready and willing to prove it straight away. As Jenna recalled on a 2020 episode of "Today with Hoda & Jenna," "After three months of dating, we — I might've had a Christmas cocktail — and we were dancing, and I said, like, 'This is it, I know it, let's just get married, what are we waiting for?'" Of course, Henry was crazy about the first daughter but felt she was too young at the time.

Fast forward a few years and Henry had time to plan the perfect proposal. According to The Washington Post, Henry asked President George W. Bush for his permission. Knowing Jenna's love of national parks, Henry chose Acadia National Park in Maine. Jenna shared on "Today" that she wondered why Henry had dragged her out of their tent at Cadillac Mountain at 4:00 a.m. She continued, "When the sun rose, he proposed, with some Secret Service behind us."

On May 10, 2008, just before sunset, Henry and Jenna wed at the Bush family ranch near Crawford, Texas. The father of the bride said proudly, "Our little girl, Jenna, married a really good guy." Among the 200 guests were Jenna's grandparents, former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Pierce Bush. 

She became a fixture of the small screen

Still enjoying her newlywed status, Jenna Bush Hager stepped into another spotlight and furthered her career by getting picked up by NBC as a D.C.-based correspondent. Jenna would balance her new role, which focused on education, with her part-time teaching position as a reading specialist. Back in 2009, she told WESH 2 news she was thrilled for the opportunity to work hard at both positions. When asked if she was always interested in TV journalism, Jenna explained that she had enjoyed being on "Today" to discuss her books, but it wasn't something she ever thought would happen. "It's exciting to take that step from writing to on-air pieces," she shared.

Two years later, the job still inspired her. When asked by the Post and Courier if she'd be going into politics, she responded, "No, not public office. ... I love being able to tell the stories of normal people who are making extraordinary change."

In 2016 she was brought on the "Today" show to reflect on Hilary Clinton becoming the first woman to be nominated a presidential candidate by a major party. She said, "The fact that we've seen our country nominate a woman is, we have to be proud of that."

From Today correspondent to Today co-anchor

When TV legend Kathie Lee Gifford stepped down from the "Today" show in 2019, longtime series fixture Jenna Bush Hager said goodbye to her correspondent role and hello to the seat next to Hoda Kotb. As Kelly Ripa knows, stepping into Gifford's shoes is a major deal, but George W. Bush's kid had paid her dues at Studio 1A. In a tearful segment with E! News, Gifford shared what she told Jenna just before the news broke: "I said ... 'Jenna, you know, you need to remember something, sweetheart. You got this job because you're you. And because you've done the work here.'"

During the on-air announcement in which Kotb and Gifford unveiled the new host by bringing her out, Jenna expressed, "It feels humbling and I can't believe it."

Viewers were apparently so happy with having Jenna on the show that her absence in March of 2022 sparked outcry and concern that she'd been replaced permanently by Kelly Rowland, who stepped in to cover the spot. One commenter wrote the show's Instagram page, "I've stopped watching till Jenna's back it isn't the same without her," while another commented, "Not one mention of where Jenna is? Seriously?" Rest assured, Jenna's absence from the show was temporary and she came back a week later.

Having it all and being a mom

Jenna Hager Bush and her husband, Henry Hager, have three children: Mila, Poppy, and Hal. When Jenna took her spot next to Hoda Kotb on the "Today" show in 2019, Hal hadn't arrived yet, but she still had her hands full balancing jobs of host and mom. During the pandemic, Mila crashed a "Today" show Con-Friends video call, wearing her school uniform, looking adorable, and even braiding her mom's hair.

Of her firstborn, Jenna told Kotb, "She taught me everything I know about love." And when Hal was born in 2019, everyone was ecstatic to have the little guy join the family. Jenna posted tons of pics of family members visiting little "Hal Pal" as his two sisters dubbed him, and she shared an exclusive video with the show of the girls kissing and hugging the baby. Jenna said, "The girls are so thrilled that they have a little baby brother all of their own."

When she made her tearful return to her co-hosting role just three months later, she was welcomed with open arms, even receiving surprise calls from her mother, Laura Bush, and former "Today" host Kathie Lee Gifford.

She's set a positive example for her kids

In March of 2022, Jenna Bush Hager "broke the internet," according to her co-host Hoda Kotb. When the two hosts appeared in outfits the "Today" audience voted on — Jenna's a green blazer with matching short skirt — viewers took note of her physique. The next day, Kotb pressed her partner for details, and Jenna shared she'd been working with a trainer and discussed the exercises she'd been doing. After having three babies, Jenna understood that a regular exercise routine not only takes time and effort, but has to fit in her schedule. She also shared a story about one of her kids seeing a magazine cover headline about her weight loss and wondering what "LBs" meant. Jenna said she makes a point not to discuss weight or size in front of her children, and she decided against explaining "LBs" to them. It's a lesson she learned from her own parents, George W. Bush and Laura Bush. 

In a 2017 essay for Today, Jenna told her two daughters to always remember to be kind to themselves. "I was lucky because even though your grandparents encouraged me to like what I see, they emphasized that I should like how I think, how I care and how I make those around me feel," she wrote. "They taught me that who I am is more important than how I look." Clearly, she's doing what she can to set a similar example for her own young ones.