DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The George W. Bush Presidential Center has been officially dedicated. Thursday’s late morning ceremony ended with the nation’s 43rd president giving a closing speech as tears welled in his eyes.
All of the past and present living U.S. presidents — Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter – attended and spoke at the dedication ceremony.
Security was heavy for not only five Presidents but also the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a host of foreign dignitaries including, including retired leaders from Great Britain, Australia, Spain and Italy.
Four local police agencies and the U.S. Secret Service had been planning for the event for months. Visible security items included dogs, spotters on the roof the Presidential Center, airborne hazardous security monitors, and scores of uniformed officers.
Invitees and media attending the event had to go through checkpoints in order to get to the primary entrances. Parking was limited, so many people took Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) to shuttle buses that ferried them to the dedication site. Once there everyone passed through weapons screening devices and those who may have set off the machines got further individual attention from uniformed Secret Service officers who used handheld weapons scanners.
Some 10,000 people attended the invitation only event. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, former Dallas Mayor and President Obama’s Trade Representative appointee Ron Kirk, Texas Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge were all among the well-wishers at the dedication.
Before the ceremony began Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz called former President George W. Bush “a great man,” and said it was “a great day for Dallas.” Kirk also noted the expected impact the Presidential Center will bring to North Texas and went on to say the day was not about partisan politics, but would be “a unifying event for all Americans.”
The dedication ceremony began with a welcome speech by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Then former First Lady Laura Bush spoke to the crowd about how the presidency is “not just about one person” and recognized the many people who join with a leader in their service to a nation.
President Jimmy Carter, who attended with his wife Rosalynn, took the stage and spoke of his work with George W. Bush in helping make peace possible between North and South Sudan in 2005 and several health and humanitarian achievements made in the nations of Africa.
George W’s father and Former President George H.W. Bush spoke very briefly from a wheelchair on the stage. The elder Bush, who was released from a Houston hospital in January where he got treatment for bronchitis, told the crowd it was a pleasure for he and his wife Barbara to be at the dedication “to honor our son, our oldest son.” After speaking for less than a minute, applauds for H.W. Bush continued and culminated with a standing ovation. George W. and Barbara Bush helped the former president to his feet to show his appreciation.
Former President Bill Clinton took the stage and jokingly spoke of “the eternal struggle of former president’s to rewrite history.” Mr. Clinton went on to praise the former president and the work of the Bush Institute that Clinton called “inspiring.” Mr. Clinton concluded his speech by noting the importance of the nation’s leaders coming together. “Debate and difference is an important part of every free society,” he said.
President Obama was the last speaker at the podium before George W. Bush. He began by saying, “When all the living former Presidents are together, it’s also a special day for our democracy.” Calling the group “the world’s most exclusive club” President Obama complimented George W. on his “nice clubhouse.”
The president also spoke of how much it meant when he found a letter from George W. in his desk the first day he took office. President Obama closed his statement with comments on immigration. “President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said, then spoke of his hope for future comprehensive immigration reform and how when achieved it would be in large part thanks to the work of George. W. Bush.
The man of the hour was the last to speak and joyfully welcomes the crowd saying, “Oh, happy days.” He thanked everyone fro attending the dedication and then joked, “There was a time in my life when I wasn’t likely to be found at a library, much less found one.”
Former President Bush spoke about the tides of politics and said, “…in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold.” The now 66-year-old spoke of the importance of expanding “the reach of freedom” and how that would light the path of peace in families, cities, states and nations.
While his name is on the building, the Former President said it belongs to the American people. The nation’s 43rd President also paid tribute to his father and turned to him saying, “41, it’s awesome you are here,” and then spoke of how his father taught him how to be a President and before that a man.
In closing the Former President Bush began to tear up as he said, “I dedicate this library with an unshakeable faith in the future of our country. It’s 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 day lie ahead. God bless.”
The George W. Bush Presidential Center complete with more than 70 million pages of records, 200 million emails, four million digital photos and some 43,000 artifacts, will open to the public on May 1.
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