Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Advertise with us »

President Bill Clinton's commencement address at the University of Michigan, April 28, 2007


Published February 11, 2010

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here and delighted to be given this degree by the University of Michigan's first female President. That has a great ring, I think.

I have had a wonderful time already. I have so many memories and associations with this university. When we were walking in, I told President Coleman that we were marching to William Walton's great coronation march, "Crown Imperial," which I first heard played on an old-fashioned LP record by the University of Michigan Band in 1963. I still own that record. And it’s still a great band.

The President mentioned my great friend, the late Eli Segal, who loved the University of Michigan and is smiling down on me today. He used to kid me that maybe someday I could get a degree from a real law school. There is another member of my cabinet here today, my former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who runs the Motion Picture Association now. He also went to Michigan Law School. Lieutenant Governor Cherry, I thank you for being here. Congressman Ron Klein from Florida is here. I have many friends in this audience.

I am particularly grateful to the students who were mentioned who worked in Rwanda in our project where we're trying to help the country rebuild. There are 11 other Michigan students who went all the way to Papua New Guinea to help set up our AIDS project there, and that's an important little example of something I want to talk about today, because half of all the languages still spoken on earth are spoken in the small country of Papua New Guinea -- more than 300 of them. That's an example of how involved you are with the larger world.

I also couldn't come to Michigan without echoing what the President said about President Ford. He and I became great friends after we were both out of the White House. We spent two memorable days playing golf together in 1993. We lied to each other about sports stories. He was a truly wonderful man.

I'd also like to acknowledge, since I'm here in the football stadium, which I have watched on television a hundred times, that this is the first graduation to occur after the passing of Coach Bo Schembechler, who as most of you know, was quite an ardent Republican. As I walked in here today on university soil, I considered a philosophical question that I had never before considered, which is whether it is possible still to switch parties in the afterlife and whether it would be moral to pray for such a result.

I want to say how inspired I was by what Jolene Pemberton and Abdul El-Sayed had to say and also how impressed I was by the previous remarks of Provost Sullivan, Dr. Smith, and the twin messages of Dean McDonald and President Coleman exhorting you not only to be successful, but to be good citizens.

I want to take just a few minutes today to ask you to think about how you're going to define your citizenship of your nation, your community, and the world, and how will you reconcile that with all your various identities, your national citizenship, your gender, your race, your religion, and all the various things that distinguish you from one another.

We celebrate today, as has already been said, the completion of your academic journey. This is largely, I believe, a time of joy, pride, gratitude, and relief. We celebrate the beginning of the rest of your life. How will you define your citizenship? This is one of the most exciting times to be alive in all of human history. It is exploding with opportunity, yet marred by inequality, insecurity, and clear unsustainability. It is bursting with knowledge, increasing at an exponential degree. Just in the last week, we have learned that several new genetic markers have been identified which are high predictors of diabetes, and that there is a planet going around a star, one of the 100 closest to our planet, that may have an atmosphere enough like ours that life is possible.