Former President Bill Clinton will be this spring’s commencement speaker, the University announced Thursday.
Clinton will address a crowd of about 40,000 in Michigan Stadium on April 28.
Most of the seniors in this year’s graduating class grew up with Clinton in the Oval Office. A former governor of Arkansas, he was elected in 1992, when most of them were learning to read Charlotte’s Web or perfecting their addition and subtraction skills.
Clinton is likely to be a popular choice among students dismayed with the last half-decade of speakers whose names lacked the high profile of Clinton or U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who addressed graduates in 1999.
Recent speakers include John Seely Brown, the former Xerox chief scientist; David Davis Jr., founder of Automobile Magazine; and CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
The University tried to nab a big-name speaker for the 2005 address, but former Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected the University’s offer, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Gary Krenz, special counsel to University President Mary Sue Coleman and the leader of the commencement speaker search process, said Clinton’s superstar status was only one of many considerations.
“We certainly look for name recognition, but that’s only one of the things we take into account,” Krenz said.
It took over a year to secure Clinton’s committment, he said.
Another Clinton has already spoken to graduates in the Big House. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), then the first lady, was the speaker in 1993.
Clinton is widely expected to mount her own bid for the presidency in 2008.
Coleman hailed the former president in a written statement.
“President Clinton is a thoughtful and captivating speaker with tremendous insight into the global challenges of our time,” she said. “We are thrilled that the Class of 2007 will conclude its time at the University with a commencement address from such a prominent world leader.”
Re-elected in 1996, Clinton presided over a period of economic expansion and relative world peace.
His record was tarnished in 1998 – about the same time most of the Class of 2007 was entering middle school – by charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that stemmed from his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the graphic details of which were splayed across front pages.
That year, Clinton became only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. In early 1999, though, the Senate voted not to convict him.
Since leaving office, Clinton has been actively involved in a variety of causes.
Along with former President George H.W. Bush, he helped raise money for the victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004 and of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He founded the Clinton Foundation, which has launched an initiative to help address issues like climate change, HIV/AIDS in Africa and American obesity.
Last year, he spoke at the commencement for Tulane University in New Orleans.
A spokesman for President Clinton said he has not yet confirmed any other commencement speeches for this spring.
The University expects to award about 3,500 undergraduate degrees.
The University Board of Regents is expected to approve Clinton at its January meeting. He will likely be awarded an honorary doctorate of laws, pending regental approval.