On a seemingly typical Wednesday morning, students flocked to Cochran Chapel, anticipating an All-School Meeting (ASM) dedicated to a documentary about President George H.W. Bush ’42 and its executive producer, Mary Kate Cary. As students settled down, Head of School John Palfrey stood before an audience of unsuspecting students and introduced Cary, a former speechwriter for Bush. Then, he welcomed two surprise guests onto stage: the 41st President of the United States and the former First Lady, Barbara Bush.
Students, faculty and staff gasped, standing up to cheer for 91-year-old Bush and the former First Lady as they emerged from behind the stage.
“Thank you for that warm Andover welcome back to the school that has meant so much to me in my life,” said Bush, waving to the audience. It was his first visit to campus since 2003, when he gave a keynote speech at Andover’s 225th anniversary.
Once the students settled down, Cary introduced her film, titled “41on41,” which depicts 41 stories from 41 perspectives on President Bush. She selected five clips from the film to present to the Andover community.
“The reason I am here is because over the years, I heard a tremendous number of stories about [President Bush] and his character and his good humor, as well as his life of service,” said Cary.
The documentary began with the reading of a poem that Dorothy Walker Bush, President Bush’s mother, inscribed in his Bible before he departed for Andover. The scene featured various interviewees, who each recited a line of the poem that they thought best represented President Bush. This poem served as the narrative arc of the documentary as it exemplifies Bush’s character.
The film featured President Bush’s service to the country, including his decision to enlist in the Navy the day he turned during 18 (which was also the day he graduated from Andover) during World War II. He was the nation’s youngest Naval Aviator at the time.
“The decision he made at Andover to serve his country was the beginning of a lifetime of public service to our country. Whether that [means] serving in the military… or serving in publicly elected office, or starting one of the largest nonprofits in the world, he has lived a life of public service that began at Andover,” said Cary.
Bush received Andover’s two highest honors, the Claude Moore Fuess Award in 1981 and the the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction in 2012 in recognition of his public service and global leadership.
After ASM, the seven recipients of the George Herbert Walker Bush Scholarship enjoyed a private lunch with the former President and First Lady, along with Palfrey and Richard Phelps ’46, who was one of Bush’s baseball teammates at Andover. The scholarship was established in 2002 by the Board of Trustees to honor President Bush, and is awarded to students of high academic achievement who possess qualities of outstanding character and leadership potential, according to the Andover website.
The seven students chatted about the past and present of Andover, sports and current events.
During his opening remarks, Bush said, “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.”
Bush, who broke his neck in July and has had to wear a neck brace since, made the trip from his home in Kennebunkport, ME.