Jenna Bush Hager Makes Her Today Show Debut

09/18/2009 at 11:55 AM EDT


While waiting to make her debut as a Today show correspondent live from the new and massive Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Jenna Bush Hager was feeling a bit nostalgic.

"My first cat was named Cowboy, after the Dallas Cowboys," she told PEOPLE. "I'm from Texas and went to elementary school here, so to come back here to do my first story in Dallas is really meaningful to me. Especially since my parents moved back."


So where would former president George W. Bush and wife Laura be watching their daughter's debut? "At home. They're retired," she said with a laugh.

Hager, who plans to keep her part-time job as a sixth-grade reading resource teacher, will focus mostly on the education beat for Today. Her first assignment: a feature on Dalton Sherman, a Dallas 11-year-old public-speaking pro who has left some audiences in tears.

A Good First Impression

After her segment wrapped, Matt Lauer held up his hand to Hager for a high-five. "It's nerve-wracking what she just did," Lauer said. "You think about 6 million people watching you, and as they say, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. I think she did a great job."

Lauer praised Hager saying she has "a great personality and a great presence, and she also has a passion for telling the kinds of stories she's interested in."

Al Roker noticed Hager's knack for on-air reporting when she and mom Laura Bush co-hosted the third hour of the show. "I came home to my wife and said, 'This young woman is just amazing. She has a natural ease about her and a warmth that you can't fake.' "

Added Roker: "You can tell she really is a mix of her parents. She's got her mother's warmth and her father's kind of impishness or mischievousness – and fortunately, her mother's really good looks."

Speaking of the parents, Hager says she worked in a little family time while on assignment in Texas. After flying to Dallas Thursday night, "they asked if I wanted to stay at a hotel, but I felt bad being in Dallas and not seeing my folks," she said.

Still, she had no time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with mom and dad. Hager says she's still adjusting to her new job's early-morning demands. "I'm used to getting up at 6 a.m.," she said, "but 3:35 is a whole new thing."

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