All five living past and present U.S. presidents gathered in Dallas for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Thursday, an event that saw the men share a rare bond that transcends partisan differences.
"There was a time in my life when I wasn't likely to be found at a library, much less found one," Bush quipped, before thanking his predecessors and successor for the "kind words" and the "examples you set."
Bush thanked his mother Barbara Bush for teaching him to live life to the fullest, and his father, the 41st president, for "teaching me how to be a president ... and how to be a man."
"Forty-one, it is awesome that you are here today," he said, drawing a smile from his 88-year-old father, who has battled health problems in recent months.
Earlier, President Obama noted that the exclusive group of current and former presidents is often viewed as a club, but he said it is "more of a support group."
"No matter how much you think you're ready to assume the office of the president, it’s impossible to understand the nature of the job until it’s yours," Obama said. "The first thing I found in that desk was a letter from George. He knew that I would come to learn what he had learned. That being president is a humbling job."
“We know President Bush the man," Obama said. "To know the man is to like the man. Because he’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. He doesn’t put on any pretenses. He takes the job seriously but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s a good man.”
Obama injected contemporary politics into the ceremony, when he claimed current efforts in Washington to pass immigration reform are a continuation of Bush policies.
"And even though comprehensive immigration reform has taken a little longer than any of us expected, I am hopeful that this year, with the help of Speaker Boehner, and some of the senators and members of Congress who are here today, that we bring it home for our families, our economy, our security, and for this incredible country that we love," Obama said. "And if we do that it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush."
Former President Jimmy Carter praised Bush for boosting humanitarian efforts in Africa, Bill Clinton recalled private conversations with his successor and expressed hope that the candid talks will never come to light and President George H.W. Bush spoke briefly to warm applause.
"Dear God, I hope those conversations never come to light," Clinton said of the private chats that took place during Bush's sometimes tumultuous second term.
"I like President Bush," Clinton added later, noting the two appear together often on the lecture circuit. "He's disarmingly direct."
Carter praised Bush for helping to fight AIDS in Africa and also bringing peace to troubled regions there,. He recalled talking to Bush shortly after his election and holding him to a promise to help him.
"In January of 2005, there was a peace treaty between North and South Sudan that ended a war," Carter said. "George W. Bush is responsible for that."
The ceremony, at Southern Methodist University, drew 10,000. The men spoke from a stage flanked by American flags in front of the entrance to the library. The center on the campus of Southern Methodist University includes the presidential library and museum along with the 43rd president's policy institute. The center opens to the public May 1.
Bush addressed his vice president, Dick Cheney, who was in attendance, saying he was "proud to call you friend." Bush said the guiding principle of his two terms in office was expanding freedom throughout the world.
When people come to the library and research Bush's administration, "They’re going to find out we stayed true to our convictions," he said. “That we expanded freedom at home by raising standards at school and lowering taxes for everybody, that we liberated nations from dictatorship and freed people from AIDS. And that when freedom came under attack, we made the tough decisions required to make the American people safe.”