UNIVERSITY PARK -- The journey starts simply enough."The presidency is more than an honor. It is more than an office. It is a charge to keep and I will give it my all."Those words written on an entryway wall -- first spoken by George W. Bush on Dec. 13, 2000, in Austin -- greet visitors as they walk into the museum at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.A brief history of Bush and his family life is on display before key moments of the Bush presidency are detailed in photos, news articles and video clips throughout the 14,000 square feet of exhibit space at the center, which will be unveiled during an invitation-only ceremony today.Bush will be joined by President Barack Obama and the three other living presidents -- George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- during an exclusive 11/2-hour dedication ceremony marking the completion of the library, museum and political institute commemorating the 43rd president's eight years in the White House."George did not want this to be a monument to himself," former first lady Laura Bush told a crowd of media members gathered Wednesday for an early look at the nation's 13th official presidential library and museum. "He said that from the very beginning."He thinks if it's based on principles [most relevant to his presidency] ... it can stay relevant."Thousands of dignitaries are expected to attend today's dedication, including former Bush staffers such as Commerce Secretary Don Evans, national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.The 226,560-square-foot, $250 million center is on the edge of Southern Methodist University.Obama arrived in Dallas on Wednesday night and was greeted by local officials including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, after Air Force One touched down at Love Field. Then he attended an exclusive fundraiser in Dallas for the Democratic National Committee.The main dedication will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. A separate event will be held from 8:30 to 9 p.m. to light Freedom Hall, a space topped with a 67-foot "lantern" made from Texas Cordova Cream limestone that will glow at night.The center will open to the public Wednesday.Key exhibitsInside the center -- beyond a display of gifts given to Bush that include bowls from Brazil, memorial bracelets from relatives of captured and killed service members, even dog bowls and elaborate jewelry from France, Italy and Africa -- lies a winding trail of permanent exhibits that document extraordinary moments of Bush's presidency.It begins with the 2000 presidential election, and the recounts that followed, as Bush, the Texas governor, faced off against Vice President Al Gore. A section titled "36 days of deadlock" is displayed near campaign paraphernalia and news footage from election night, when no winner was declared. And it notes that Bush became the 43rd president after the Supreme Court weighed in.Exhibits also point out some of the domestic goals set by Bush, from the No Child Left Behind program to faith-based initiatives.As visitors turn the corner, twisted steel beams recovered from the World Trade Center after the 9-11 attacks form a dramatic display, stretching from the floor to the ceiling in front of a wall listing names of those who died that day in 2001.Sirens can be heard in the background as news footage of the attacks is broadcast. And Bush's voice -- through a bullhorn now on display -- can be heard saying, as he did at ground zero: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"Behind the bullhorn is a quote from Bush on Sept. 14, 2001: "This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."Laura Bush said this display is among the most poignant for her."I hope people really learn and relearn the history of the first decade of this century," she said. "It's important for people to know about it and remember the people lost Sept. 11."It's a very pivotal moment ... in our history."Other displays touch on Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Exhibits address education reform, the spread of freedom, the financial crisis and the fight against AIDS.Ball gowns from Laura Bush are displayed, as is the custom dress she wore for the White House state dinner in 2007 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. And there's a display solely about "Living in the White House."A replica of the Oval Office looks as though it were taken straight out of the White House during Bush's tenure from 2001 to 2009, complete with family photos and the presidential seal on the ceiling. That room leads to the Texas Rose Garden, a version of the White House Rose Garden with plants that will flourish in the Texas heat.At a Decision Points theater, visitors can review scenarios that Bush faced -- from the decision to go into Iraq to the financial crisis -- and see some of the advice he received at the time. Visitors vote on what they would have done. Then a video of Bush tells what he actually did.'Joyful occasion'The library and museum were turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration during a luncheon Wednesday as Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, and David Ferriero, the country's archivist, signed a joint-use agreement."It feels a little funny to work on something for six years and then just give it away," Langdale said. "But that's how this works."The records administration will run the facility, as it does with the other 12 presidential libraries and museums.George W. Bush spoke briefly to the crowd, saying he would save most of his remarks for today, because it "really is a day to give thanks."After thanking Langdale and others for their work and noting that the center has no debt -- "an unusual phenomenon in the 21st century" -- Bush did say one thing about today's celebration."It is going to be a joyful occasion," he said.The red-brick-and-limestone presidential center, housing a library, a museum, presidential archives, a public policy institute, the Bush foundation and a park, has been in the works since SMU was chosen as the site in 2008.Designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscaped by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the center sits on 23 acres at SMU -- Laura Bush's alma mater. Besides permanent and temporary exhibits, it features the Cafe 43 restaurant, a museum store, classrooms, research rooms, offices, seminar rooms and an auditorium.Most materials for the complex, from the pecan paneling inside to the bluebonnets outside, came from within 500 miles of Dallas.The center has more than 40,000 items from the Bush presidency, more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos.One of its key missions is the privately funded Bush Policy Institute, which will be "committed to serious, independent research aimed at generating practical solutions to important public policy problems." The institute will focus on education, global health, freedom and economic growth.This is the third presidential library in Texas. The others are the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station.Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsley
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Location: Southern Methodist University, 2943 SMU Blvd.
Dedication: The invitation-only ceremony will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. today. An event to light Freedom Hall, a space topped with a lantern-shaped roof that will glow at night, will be held from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Most cable news networks will cover the ceremony, and there's a webcast at www.bushcenter.org.
Public opening: The center officially opens to the public Wednesday. The hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
To learn more: For information on visiting, contact the visitor services coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. For museum questions, call 214-346-1557 or email email@example.com. To write former President George W. Bush or former first lady Laura Bush, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or formal correspondence to: Office of George W. Bush, P.O. Box 259000, Dallas, TX 75225-9000