George W. Bush Presidential Center Opens

Five U.S. Presidents traveled to Dallas for the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center

THE DECISION TABLE The most notable feature of the center is a giant interactive display table where visitors can gain insight into the decisions of the Bush administration. Photo by Anisha
THE DECISION TABLE The most notable feature of the center is a giant interactive display table where visitors can gain insight into the decisions of the Bush administration. Photo by Anisha

It is such a rare event that has only occurred in history a handful of times. But it happened just seven miles from Hockaday, at Southern Methodist University on April 25, when five living U.S. presidents, along with 18 world leaders, five governors, 12 congressmen and countless national and local leaders attended the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Upper School French teacher Mollie Monaco was invited to the dedication ceremony by her friend Alan Lowe, the director of the Bush Presidential Center.

“I felt very patriotic. It gave me goosebumps,” Monaco said. She described the morning as exciting, but at the same time a little bit tense.

“We were going to see the five living presidents, and it’s just exciting to have that many important people there together,” Monaco said. “You knew there was a little tension in the air, you don’t want anything bad to happen, God forbid.”

One of the most difficult aspects behind the planning was choosing the day the dedication ceremony would take place.

“It was very difficult to get a date where all of [the living presidents] could meet, especially with President Obama’s schedule,” said Johnny Armijo, who works in the SMU Development and External Affairs Department.

At the ceremony, all five presidents praised former president Bush, regardless of policy and party disaccord.

“It just showed that despite the fact that they’re from different political parties, that they have different allegiances, that they have different beliefs, deep down, there’s a great respect for the office of the presidency and they all really and truly liked George W. Bush as the man,” Monaco said.

Following the dedication ceremony, SMU hosted a block party that night for the SMU community, neighbors and others who were invited. Upper School history teacher and SMU graduate Colleen Durkin attended the block party where a group of the U.S. Armed Forces sang, and George W. Bush made an appearance to thank everyone.

Even though the Bush Center is the third of 13 presidential libraries and centers to open in Texas, it is nevertheless unique. The Center is home to six institutes which will lead in research, policy implementation and the advancement of freedom.

“As a student community we are very, very excited with opportunity associated with the Bush library,” said Jenny Mitchell ’11, a sophomore at SMU.

Mitchell said that some SMU students left for Austin during the dedication ceremony in fear of an attack on April 25 with so many powerful individuals in Dallas.

“It started out as a joke, but after the Boston Marathon bombings, some [took] it a little bit more seriously,” Mitchell said.

The center is interactive in the way that visitors can walk through the decision-making process during the Bush presidency and determine what decisions they would make had they called the shots.

Director of Communications for the George W. Bush Presidential Center Hannah Abney said that she hopes visitors will have a better vision of what the American presidency is like when they leave the center.

“Rather than tell this chronological narrative of the presidency, it’s a little bit more interesting to show it in way that illustrates a more macro narrative of this presidency,” she said.

Durkin agreed and hopes it will help people understand the immense difficulty of the office.

“There were some really unpopular decisions made while [Bush] was president, and I commend him for addressing those in this museum,” Durkin said. “For a president to acknowledge there were some mistakes made is impressive.”

The museum features exhibits on all of the major markers of the Bush administration. It opens with a walk through the Bush 2000 campaign and news clips of the landmark Bush v. Gore Supreme Court Case.

The 9/11 exhibit resembles the Vietnam Memorial; the names of all the casualties from Sept. 11 are inscribed on a wall. Six TV screens show news clippings from the day of the strike and collapse of the buildings, and another large display screen exhibits the reaction of the President and Laura Bush and their statements to the public.

The interactive features of the museum include several large touch screens where visitors can see the effects of various Bush programs, as well as diary excerpts from 9/11. The most notable of these displays is a giant table where visitors can use their hands to play around with photos, videos, military intel, battle strategies and much more to gain insight into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“It’s interesting to look at eight years of a presidency and basically boil it down into 50,000 square feet of an exhibit,” Abney said. “So in this case, they wanted to focus on the decision-making process, not just of President Bush, but of any president.”

The Decision Points exhibit allows 20 visitors to hear advice from various government officials and White House personell before making a final decision on one of the major moments in the Bush presidency. The decision must be made on a ticking clock on senarios including the Iraq War, Hurrican Katrina and the financial crisis.

Mitchell said the SMU community as well as the Dallas community at large is only beginning to understand immeasurable opportunities the Bush Center will bring to the the city. Dallas, already a center of heavy financial and technological influence, will be far more attractive to visitors, as well as high dignitaries who visit.

Hosting “five great [politicians]” is very exciting, Durkin said. “My heart almost exploded in just pure joy” when all five presidents were here, she said.

“To have five of them there, and respecting each other, not because of politics, but because they believe in this system, in this country, in these people. How much more do you want as an American and as a Dallasite? I mean that’s what I want in my backyard, and that’s what I got.”

Durkin hopes that Dallas residents, especially Hockaday students, will take advantage of this center in their hometown and not be discouraged by party lines or party politics.

“I want people to see beyond the Republican Party in this museum,” she said.

As President Bush said during the dedication ceremony, “This beautiful building has my name above the door, but it belongs to you.”

SMU students, who had the opportunity to visit the center two days before the public opening on May 1, are also excited for the great resource the center will be for them.

“I’m very proud of my school and the things it’s offering its students, and additionally the Dallas community,” Mitchell said.

The morning of the opening on May 1, 43 Dallas-Fort Worth area students were chosen by school superintendent to be the first visitors of the center. Among them were seniors Laura-Brynn and Hollis, accompanied by Upper School history teacher Tracy Walder. President Bush made a surprise appearance to greet the center’s first visitors.

“LB grabbed my arm and started crying,” Hollis said. “I was laughing for some reason, but we were both so excited that he was there.”

Armijo, both an SMU undergraduate and graduate, was excited about the attention this brought to the university and its campus.

“To hear people compliment you on your home is just wonderful,” he said. “It’s exciting because it put us on the map around the world. It’s going to bring a lot of attention to SMU.”