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Remarks by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush at the Dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center
MRS. LAURA BUSH:
Welcome everyone, welcome to all of our friends and family who have joined us today. Be seated. Welcome to all of our friends and family who have joined us today from around the country and around the world. Thank you all for coming. And a special welcome to President Obama and Michelle, to President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, to President Carter and Rosalynn, and finally, we’re thrilled to have our father and mother, President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. (Applause.) I know for the Presidential families that nothing says an exciting get-together more than an invitation to come and see millions of documents from someone else’s time in office (laughter), so thank you all very much for coming.
A warm welcome to the former heads of state who have joined us, the diplomatic corps, the members of the United States Congress, and our Armed Forces. And we’re especially happy to see the familiar faces of so many of the Bush-Cheney Administration.
In the United States, the presidency is not just about one person. The presidency is about all of the people who join with that president in years of service to our remarkable nation. They are the people who never fly on Air Force One, but who put in countless late nights and earlier mornings, who spend less time with their family and friends and more time hard at work caring for our country. The presidency is about the men and women of our military who serve every president and who make the ultimate sacrifice to protect us and keep us safe. The stones in the walls represent your years of service. This building is here because of your service and for that, George and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
A presidential library is not just about one president; each library is about our nation and the world during that time. The George W. Bush Presidential Center reflects George’s role as the first president of the 21st century. Like our new era, the building and its grounds are designed to be forward-looking, and they’re green and sustainable. They celebrate the native environment of our home state of Texas. The archives housed here are completely digital. And the entire Bush Center is designed to present the past and engage the future. We welcome scholars, and students, and the community at large to gather here for generations to come.
The Center is designed to be human in scale, because, like the White House, presidential libraries belong to all Americans. The people across our nation were the ones who inspired us every day. Here, we remember the heartbreak and the heroism of September 11th, and the bravery of those who answered the call to defend our country. We remember the volunteers of all ages and all walks of life who came to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. And we remember all the people who step forward to help others -- whether to teach a child to read, or to feed a hungry family.
And throughout this Center, I am reminded of my husband. I remember the image of George standing amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, his arm around the shoulders of a retired firefighter, who had grabbed his old gear to go search for the missing. I remember George standing alone on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium, preparing to throw out the first pitch in New York of the 2001 World Series, during that long season of heartbreak and healing. I remember his quiet visits with the families of the fallen, sharing their stories and their tears. And I remember how steadfast and steady he was for eight years. Since we’ve been home, I’ve added new memories. I see George lifting a brush to paint and refurbish a health clinic in the African nation of Zambia. I see George last May, on a bike ride with wounded veterans, when he hopped off his own bike to help push an Army Major, who was pedaling with only one leg, up the steep hills. My George is a man who, when someone needs a hand, offers them his arms.
That is the spirit I hope is forever captured in this beautiful building -- that this will always be a place that welcomes each visitor with open arms. (Applause.)
Thank you all, and welcome. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Thank you all. Please be seated. Oh, happy days! (Laughter.) I want to thank you all for coming. Laura and I are thrilled to have so many friends -- I mean, a lot of friends -- here to celebrate this special day. There was a time in my life when I wasn’t likely to be found at a library, much less found one. (Laughter)
This beautiful building has my name above the door, but it belongs to you. It honors the cause we serve and the country we share. For eight years, you gave me the honor of serving as your President. And today I am proud to dedicate this center to the American people. (Applause.)
I am very grateful to President Obama and Michelle for making this trip. (Applause.) Unlike the other Presidents here, he’s actually got a job. Mr. President, thank you for your kind words and for leading the nation we all love.
I appreciate my fellow members of the former presidents club: 42*, 41**, and 39***. I want to thank you all for your kind words and the example you have set. (Applause.)
Alexander Hamilton once worried about ex-Presidents “wandering among the people like discontented ghosts.” (Laughter.) Actually, I think we seem pretty happy. (Laughter.) One reason is that we have wonderful first ladies at our side. (Applause.) Hillary and Rosalynn, thank you for your service and your generosity. Mother and Laura, you know how I feel.
Condi introduced the world leaders with whom I had the privilege to serve. You are good friends, and I am honored to have you here in the Promised Land. (Laughter.) I want to welcome the Members of Congress -- Mr. Speaker, I appreciate you coming -- and the diplomatic corps. I know you will all be happy to hear this speech will be shorter than a State of the Union. (Laughter.) I thank the Governors, Governor of our own home State and other governors, mayors, and state and local officials who are here.
I welcome members of my Cabinet, that White House staff, and Administration -- especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (Applause.) From the day I asked Dick to run with me, he served with loyalty, principle, and strength. Proud to call you “friend.” History’s going to show that I served with great people -- a talented, dedicated, intelligent team of men and women who love our nation as much as I do.
I want to thank the people who have made this project a success. President Gerald Turner runs a fantastic university (Applause.) A university with active trustees, dedicated faculty, and a student body that is … awesome. I want to thank David Ferriero, Alan Lowe, and the professionals at the National Archives and Records Administration have taken on a major task, and I am confident you all will handle it. I appreciate the architects, landscapers, and designers, especially Bob Stern, Michael Van Valkenbergh, and Dan Murphy. I want to thank the folks of Manhattan Construction, as well as all the workers who built a fine facility that will stand the test of time. I thank the fantastic team at the George W. Bush Center, headed by Mark Langdale and Jim Glassman, and my longtime pal, Donnie Evans. Much to the delight – much to the delight of the folks who worked on this project, we have raised enough money to pay our bills. (Applause.) We have over 300,000 contributors from all 50 states, and Laura and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
This is the first time in American history that parents have seen their son’s presidential library. Mother, I promise to keep my area clean. (Laughter.) You know, Barbara Bush taught me to live life to the fullest, to laugh a lot, and to speak my mind -- a trait that sometimes got us both into trouble. (Laughter.) Dad taught me how to be a President… before that, he showed how to be a man. And 41, it is awesome that you are here today. (Applause.)
I welcome -- I welcome my dear brothers and sister, as well as in-laws, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles -- all of you -- for joining us. Our family has meant more than anything to me, and I thank you for making it so.
Not so long ago, this campus was home to a beautiful West Texan named Laura Welch. When she earned her degree in library science, I’m not sure this day is exactly what she had in mind. (Laughter.) She’s been a source of strength and support and inspiration ever since we met in the O’Neill’s backyard in Midland, Texas. One of the joys of the presidency was watching Laura serve as First Lady. The American people rightly love her, and so do I. (Applause.)
Laura’s going to be even better at her next role: grandmother. (Laughter.) It was a joy – I can’t tell you what a joy it was to hold little Mila. And I am really happy that Mila’s mother and father, Jenna and Henry, could make it here today. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.) So, if you don’t have anything to do in the morning, tune into the Today show. Jenna’s a correspondent, thereby continuing the warm relations the Bush family has with the national press. (Laughter.) And I’m really proud of Barbara, who’s with us, for her incredible work to serve others and save lives. (Applause.)
Today marks a major milestone in a journey that began 20 years ago, when I announced my campaign for Governor of Texas. Some of you were there that day. I mean, a lot of you were there that day. I picture you looking a little younger. You probably picture me with a little less gray hair. In politics, you learn who your real friends are -- and our friends have stood us with us every step of the way. And today’s a day to give you a proper thanks.
In a democracy, the purpose of public office is not to fulfill personal ambition. Elected officials must serve a cause greater than themselves. The political winds blow left and right. Polls rise and fall. Supporters come and go. But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction -- the guiding principle of the Administration -- is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom. (Applause.)
I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart. Freedom inspired our Founders, and preserved our Union through Civil War, and secured the promise of civil rights. Freedom sustains dissidents bound by chains, believers huddled in underground churches, and voters who risk their lives to cast their ballots. Freedom unleashes creativity, rewards innovation, and replaces poverty with prosperity. And ultimately, freedom lights the path to peace.
Freedom brings responsibility. Independence from the state does not mean isolation from each other. A free society thrives when neighbors help neighbors, and the strong protect the weak, and public policies promote private compassion.
As President, I tried to act on these principles every day. That wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t always popular. One of the benefits of freedom is that people can disagree. It’s fair to say I created plenty of opportunities to exercise that right. (Laughter.) But when future generations come to this library and study this Administration, they’re going to find out that we stayed true to our convictions (applause) -- that we expanded freedom at home by raising standards in schools and lowering taxes for everybody; that we liberated nations from dictatorship and freed people from AIDS; and that when our freedom came under attack, we made the tough decisions to keep the American people safe.
Those same principles define the mission of the Presidential Center. I am retired from politics – happily so, I might add – but not from public service. We will use our influence to help more children start life with a quality education, to help more Americans find jobs and economic opportunity, to help more countries overcome poverty and disease, to help more people in every part of the world live in freedom. We will work to empower women around the world to transform their countries, and stand behind the courageous men and women who have stepped forward to wear the uniform the United States to defend our flag and our freedoms here at home.
Ultimately, the success of a nation depends on the character of its citizens. As President, I had the privilege to see that character up close. I saw it in the first responders who charged up the stairs into the flames to save people from burning towers. I saw it in the Virginia Tech professor who barricaded his classroom door with his body until his students escaped to safety. I saw it in the people of New Orleans who made homemade boats to rescue their neighbors from the floods. I saw it in the service members who laid down their lives to keep our country safe and to make other nations free.
Franklin Roosevelt once described the dedication of a library as “an act of faith.” I dedicate this library with an unshakable faith in the future of our country. It was the honor of a lifetime to lead a country as brave and as noble as the United States. Whatever challenges come before us, I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead. God bless. (Applause.)
* President Bill Clinton
** President George H.W. Bush
*** President Jimmy Carter