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“From labor camps in North Korea, to political prisons in Cuba and Burma, university halls in Iran, coffeehouses in Venezuela, and other places, dissidents and reformers are seeking strength and support. When America stands for liberty, they take heart. When we do not, the dictators tighten their grip,” Mr. Bush said.

He announced several fellows for the institute, including the first “fellow in human freedom,” Oscar Morales Guevara. Mr. Guevara used Facebook to launch a movement called “One Million Voices Against the FARC,” the brutal leftist separatist movement in Colombia. A month later, more than 12 million people in 40 countries rallied against the network.

On global health, another key focus of the Bush administration, the former president named as fellow Mark Dybul, who was coordinator of the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief during the Bush years.

“It should affect the conscience of our country when a child goes hungry or dies needlessly from a mosquito bite,” Mr. Bush said. “America has a strategic interest in alleviating suffering, healing disease, and lifting societies out of despair. Hopeful, healthy, productive societies are less likely to be sources of violence and instability — and more likely to be partners in trade, prosperity, and peace.”

Former first lady Laura Bush will play a role as well, overseeing women’s initiatives and education, her pet issue during her tenure in the White House. With Sandy Kress, former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, as the issue’s steward, the institute will seek to evaluate how best “to recruit, prepare, evaluate and reward” principals and administrators.

The presidential complex — at more than 200,000 square feet, second in size only to President Reagan’s library in Simi Valley, Ca. — will include an archives and museum. The archives will hold “four million photos; thousands of boxes of documents; and hundreds of millions of e-mails — not one of which was sent by me,” Mr. Bush said to laughter.

Also at the museum will be a replica of his Oval Office, a “Texas Rose Garden,” Mr. Bush said, and “the bullhorn I used in my first visit to Ground Zero” in New York three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Bush, who is writing his memoirs, due out next fall, seemed to enjoy the spotlight and, as a self-confessed C student, his return to college.

“It’s pretty exciting for a 63-year-old to be back on the college scene. I enjoy popping in on a class from time to time. Come to think of it, that was my strategy as a student,” he said to laughter.

His post-presidency has also provided some interesting opportunities, he said, including one offer “to be a greeter at Elliott’s Hardware.”