Former president George H.W. Bush paid a surprise visit to his alma mater Phillips Academy in Andover on Wednesday morning, making a grand entrance as students gathered in the school chapel to watch a documentary about the 91-year-old alum.
Bush arrived alongside his wife, Barbara Bush, who was part of the documentary project titled "41on41." The film offers the perspective of 41 storytellers on the life of the 41st US president.
The standing-room-only gathering of students, faculty, and staff broke into applause as Bush made his entrance, according to school officials. George and Barbara Bush appeared from behind the stage at the very beginning of the presentation, according to head of school John Palfrey.
"It was an electric moment for the students," said Palfrey in a phone interview. He helped arrange the visit and was in on the secret. "I think the element of surprise certainly helped, but mostly the excitement was borne of the enormous respect for all they've done throughout their lives," he said.
At the event, Bush spoke of his affection for the "school that has meant so much to me in my life," according to a news release from Andover.
"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 added.
Bush had not been on the Andover campus since 2003, when he spoke at the storied institution's 225th anniversary. He was a member of the class of 1942 and eventually sent three sons — George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, and Marvin Bush — to study there.
Bush has been recovering from a fall this summer in which he fractured a bone in his neck.
Palfrey, who was at the weekly all-school meeting in Cochran Chapel with the documentary's executive producer, Mary Kate Cary, when Bush came in, had been working with the former president to arrange a visit since last year.
Palfrey noted that none of the students at Phillips were alive when Bush left office in 1993. Many were born while George W. Bush was president.
"When we learned about the film, we thought that might be the perfect occasion to welcome him back," Palfrey said.