September 30, 2015

President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush make surprise visit to Andover

41st president steals the show at screening of '41on41'
by Phillips Academy

Phillips Academy students gathered in the campus chapel this morning expecting to watch highlights of a documentary about George H.W. Bush with the film’s executive producer. Little did they know that they would be watching the film with its headliners—the 41st president and former first lady themselves.

Head of School John Palfrey opened the weekly All-School Meeting in Cochran Chapel to an unsuspecting audience, introducing Mary Kate Cary, the executive producer of the documentary 41on41. Palfrey then said he had two more special guests to introduce. (View the full text of Palfrey's introductory remarks on his blog.)

Accompanied by former first lady Barbara Bush, the 91-year-old former president, an Andover alumnus from the Class of 1942, emerged on the chapel dais from an anterior room. The chapel erupted in applause, as Bush waved and gestured signs of gratitude to the standing-room-only crowd of students, faculty and staff.

“Thank you for that warm Andover welcome back to the school that has meant so much to me in my life,” he said.

Once the crowd settled, Cary screened excerpts from the film and offered commentary on Bush’s life and ties to Andover. Led by Barbara Bush, the film’s 41 storytellers include family members, world leaders, sports figures, White House staff and fellow alumnus Bruce Gelb, Andover Class of 1945, who served in the Bush administration.

Reflecting on his first visit back to campus since 2003, Bush said today: “It always gives me great joy to return to Andover. The lessons learned and the relationships forged here have meant so much throughout my full and adventurous life, and I could wish nothing more for every student who is so blessed to walk on this campus.”

“I continue to be inspired by President Bush’s sense of devotion to Andover, his long-held belief in our mission and genuine interest in the lives of students today. What an extraordinary privilege to share this special day with President and Mrs. Bush,” said Palfrey.

After the screening, the Bushes enjoyed a private lunch with a small group including Palfrey, Richard Phelps (Andover baseball teammate and Class of 1946) and seven students who are attending Andover on the George Herbert Walker Bush Scholarship. Established in 2002 by the board of trustees to honor Bush and encourage the example his life represents, the scholarship is awarded to students of high academic achievement who also possess qualities of outstanding character and leadership potential.

A trustee emeritus of Phillips Academy, Bush served 16 years on the board—three as an alumni trustee and 13 as a charter trustee. The Bush family legacy at Andover spans generations and includes cousins, in-laws and nephews. President and Mrs. Bush also sent three sons to Andover: George ’64, Jeb ’71 and Marvin ’75.

While at Andover, Bush was an accomplished varsity athlete, a leader in student government and a member of the school newspaper’s editorial board. He was on campus December 7, 1941, when news broke of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That day he vowed to serve his country. On his 18th birthday—also the day of his Andover graduation—Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy and, in 1943, became the nation’s youngest Naval aviator.

“Driving this decision to [defer] college at Yale and join the war effort immediately, I am sure, was my Dad’s own service in World War I—but there was more to it,” he wrote for Andover magazine in 2011. “I was also heeding the Andover motto, Non Sibi [not for self], and as I say, our country was united.”

Bush graduated from Yale University in 1948.

When Bush last visited campus in 2003 he gave a keynote at Andover’s 225th anniversary celebration, emphasizing the importance of values-based leadership. “I have no doubt that the best days for our country are ahead. Part of that is because of what is going on right here at Andover, an institution where excellence is sought and sound values are inculcated,” he said.

As national honorary chair of Campaign Andover (1997–2003), Bush helped lead the $208 million effort that, at the time, was the most ambitious fundraising initiative in independent school history.

In recognition of his public service and global leadership, Bush received the school’s two highest honors, the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction in 2012 and the Claude Moore Fuess Award in 1981.

“With every opportunity to serve—from president of Andover’s Class of 1942 to commander in chief of the United States—President Bush has embodied our school’s founding principle of non sibi,” said Palfrey. “His remarkable life of leadership and service illuminated Cochran Chapel this morning—on film and in person. What a moving experience! What a tremendous honor and privilege for every one of us at Andover today.”

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