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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Clinton promotes ‘citizen involvement’ at Brandeis


Published: December 7, 2007
Section: (Audio/Video), Audio Segments, Front Page, News

President Bill Clinton spoke to an audience of over 4,000 on Monday, as the first speaker for the Eli J. Segal ’64 Citizen Leadership program. Segal, who passed away in 2006, founded Americorps and worked as Clinton’s campaign chief of staff in 1992.

“[Throughout] his all-too-short life, [Segal] used his genius at organizing…to help benefit the most vulnerable of society,” said University President Jehuda Reinharz. “Let your time at Brandeis, just like Eli Segal, inspire you to do more… not because we want to, but because we must.”

Reinharz then introduced Clinton as the “preeminent global volunteer” and an “exemplar of Brandeis’ commitment to social justice,” saying his speech should “encourage you… to give whatever you can, because there is much to be done down the street and around the world.”

1207075.jpgClinton then entered the gymnasium, met with a standing ovation. “When I watched that video of Eli recounting our life together… I was thinking all over again what an astonishing human being he was, and what a blessing he was in my life,” said Clinton.

“I realized that he had a quality that was relatively rare… he was a genuine social entrepreneur,” Clinton added. “He could take a vision and make it into a reality—and that’s a skill we need.” Discussing the rise of Americorps, Clinton said, “what I hope will happen is that people will remember the grand gift that he had, because the world is awash in opportunities and challenges.”

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Clinton’s Speech
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Clinton’s question and answer session with President Reinharz 42.68 MB

Audio c/o 101.1 WBRS

“We live in a world where your active citizen involvement is required,” he added. “Where both what you know and how you think will have to be weighted against your capacity to…turning it into real-life changes.” Discussing progress in technology and society, Clinton added “there are a lot more young people [active] because their people are in power to generate their own sources and attribute them to all kinds of causes.”

Clinton felt there were three major challenges affecting today’s society and endangering its future. Beginning with “persistent and growing inequality in incomes, education, and healthcare,” Clinton discussed the plight of developing countries, including the high death tolls due to AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as domestic problems such as job losses and a decrease in the number of insured. “That’s why there’s so much response to globalization, and so much reaction against trade—because half the world feels left out.”

Calling education “the one resource for which we still enjoy a global comparative advantage,” Clinton said fewer low-income students in the highest percentile would graduate than higher-income students with worse grades; “If you’re an American that should really bother you…if we continue to have a decrease in equality, it will be impossible to preserve [an] American ideal.”

The second problem affecting the world, Clinton said, was one of environmental sustainability. Recalling most of the world’s failure to meet the goals set in the Kyoto Protocols and the rapid loss of natural resources, Clinton said both established and developing countries need to move to a post-carbon economy.

Stating the planet will have to accommodate nine billion people in the face of shrinking supplies, Clinton advocated educating developing countries, arguing this would raise the age of marriage and childbearing.

He added that most environmental works, such as renovating older buildings in New York City with new windows, were economically sound, but were not implemented due to organizational issues amongst market leaders and consumers.

“Here’s an Eli Segal-worthy problem,” said Clinton. “If I was going to be President in 2009 and Eli was alive, I would put him in charge of this… [because] every time you use a car that makes carbon emissions, it’s optional—we’re just not organized for hybrid plug-in electrics.”

He also discussed the “conflict between the identities we have and the identities we need.” Clinton said only prolonged interaction and proximity would solve nationalistic conflict. “Whatever is special about us… are things to be celebrated and enjoyed, but in the end, our humanity matters more,” he added. “The radical rejection of that brings you to Al-Qaeda.”

“We’re riding a wave of global citizenship participation,” Clinton said. “These are the jobs for social entrepreneurs.” He concluded, “this is work that is worth the life and legacy of my friend and of the program dedicated in his name. It’s the work you have to do if you want to see your grandchildren here 50 years from now.”

Afterwards, Clinton took pre-selected questions from students. When Rajiv Ramakrishnan ’10 asked what a university could do in the fight against global poverty, Clinton advocated investing in microcredit for an undeveloped country. ”

Prompted by a question from Rebecca Schiller ’09, Clinton stated his most gratifying project was “the AIDS project,” where he doubled the number of children receiving treatment.

He added, “I like being able to be a private citizen and a public servant—it’s fun.”

“When you’re been president, what you should do is use your knowledge and experience and contacts to do what only you can do… most of the things I do are a unique outgrowth of the life I’ve led,” Clinton said.

Student responses were uniformly positive. “I thought it was a great speech,” said Laine Kaplan-Levenson ’09. “I think when he spoke about the American ideal, that it is actually in jeopardy was something great—I think it was brave of him to say and rare to hear in front of a large group of people.”

“His speech was overall very good,” said Robbie Schwartz ’08. “Clinton definitely has a way with words, though he did sound out of it a bit in the beginning. Since it was never really one of his main objectives, his focus on the environment was surprising.”

Professor Stephen Whitfield (AMST) said, “Clinton…conveys the sense of enormous promise—and enormous loss—that the country could not have had the fullest benefit of what his political skills and intelligence could have given us.”