DALLAS - On a sunny Spring day on the Southern Methodist University campus last April, all five living presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter - gathered for the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Presidential Libraries, however, are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, preserving the written record and physical history of our presidents, while providing special programs and exhibits that serve their communities. These libraries, described by President Ronald Reagan as "classrooms of Democracy," belong to the American people.
On a blustery winter day last week, Anna Mentor Program members boarded the big yellow school bus and headed south on U.S. 75 for a field trip to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The group included 12 Middle and High School students, 11 mentors, chaperones and Anna ISD staff members.
"Our mentor organization does a field trip the first half of February each year to help the students see different views of the outside world that they may not have the avenue to experience," explained Jim Rountree, who heads the Mentor Program and can best be described as the ‘Mentor of Mentors.’ These trips include visits to industry, colleges, museums and hospitals.
Everyone went through the 14,000 square foot main gallery of the library which is framed on four principles that are stated as vitally important to George W. Bush: freedom, responsibility, opportunity and compassion.
Whether taking part in a variety of interactive features, examining the somber 9/11 attack events, which included a display of charred steel beams from the World Trade Center, or sitting in the Decision Points Theater the students and mentors saw the presidential decision making process through key events of the Bush administration.
The full size reproduction of the Oval Office was a big hit, especially when the students had a chance to sit and gather around the president’s desk and for a brief moment be presidents themselves.
"The kids really enjoyed the trip. They had no idea what to expect; they were very surprised how much information they got from reviewing all of the exhibits," said Rountree. "And we had one student that decided he wanted to be president."
Beginning a tradition that continues to this day, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised private funds and built a presidential library in Hyde Park, New York, which he gave to the U.S. Government for operation through the National Archives. In 1955, this process became law when U.S. Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act.
There are 13 Presidential Libraries, with three of them in Texas – the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library on the University of Texas campus in Austin, the George Bush Presidential Library on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station and the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas.