President Bush spoke Tuesday before a sold-out crowd of 2,000 people during the 76th lecture as part of The University of Texas at Tyler's Distinguished Lecture Series.
He walked on the stage to a standing ovation. People in the audience were pumping their fists and whistling. One audience member shouted, “Bring back Bush,”at one point during the presentation.
He would receive at least two more standing ovations before the end of his speech.
With trademark humor and conviction, he said he sought to lead with vision and optimism and to leave the office equal to or better than it was when he arrived.
“Here's what you learn,” he said. “You realize you're not it. You're a part of something bigger than yourself.”He also touted his book “Decision Points” which is set to be released in November.
“This will come as a shock to some people in our country who didn't think I could read a book, much less write one,” he quipped. “It's not a judgmental book,” he said. “It's not a Bush is cool (book).”
Bush said he misses certain aspects of the presidency.
“I miss being pampered; I miss Air Force 1; I miss being commander in chief of an awesome group of (people),” he said.Bush said during his first days out of office, he took his dog Barney on a walk around his new neighborhood in Dallas. The experience also was new to Barney too who saw a neighbor's yard and took the opportunity to relieve himself.
“Ten days out of the presidency, there I was with a plastic bag in my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for eight years,” he said to many laughs.
Bush said he sat in the White House with his economic advisors Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke three weeks into the economic downturn.
He said Bernanke told him, “If you don't do something significant, you're likely to see a depression greater than the Great Depression.”
“Depression, no depression,” Bush said. “It wasn't that hard for me, just so you know. I made the decision to use your money to prevent the collapse from happening.”
Bush talked about the influence that President Abraham Lincoln had on his presidency. He said he made a point to watch little television and instead to read quite often.
He read 12 biographies about Lincoln during his time in office.
“It's interesting to be making history and reading history,” he said. “I think he's the country's greatest president.”
He called it a “paramount” duty to meet with the loved ones of troops who die in service.
He talked about one man, who after his relative had died in war, asked to receive a waiver so he could serve in his country despite his older age.
“Instead of letting the grief overwhelm him, this man stood to serve our country,” Bush said. “We are blessed with people like that.”
UT Tyler President Rodney H. Mabry called Bush the “most determined, principled, compassionate and successful” president this country has had. He also said the university raised more than $200,000 for scholarships through a dinner that preceded the lecture.