Former President Clinton Delivers OSU Commencement Address

Former President Clinton steps onto the field at Ohio Stadium
Former President Clinton steps onto the field at Ohio Stadium

Former President Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address Sunday at Ohio State University. He urged about 7,000 gradates to work toward solving the world’s problems. That requires, he says, recognizing what all the world’s people have in common.

Mr. Clinton got a rousing welcome when he appeared at the north portal of Ohio Stadium’s field. Then, with ceremonies underway, Ohio State University President Karen Holbrook awarded the 42nd president an honorary doctorate.

“In the name of The Ohio State University and by the authority that its board of trustees has vested in me, I hereby confer upon William Jefferson Clinton the degree Doctor of Public Service,” Holbrook said. “In testimony you will be presented with a diploma. Congratulations!”

In the speech that followed, the former president strayed only briefly into politics. Most of what he told the 35,000 in attendance dealt with what he called ‘the promise and peril of the 21st century.’

“I could talk to you all day about what needs to be done,” Clinton said. “Do we have security challenges? Yes. Do we have the possibility that nuclear weapons could go off? Yes. Is global warming a horrible problem? Absolutely. Do we know what we’re going to do when we run out of oil? No. Is Darfur a travesty? Yes. But all these problems are rooted in one larger question. The question is, which matters more? Our interesting differences or our common humanity.”

Mr. Clinton said that conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis and the Sunni and Shia groups were evidence of a focus on shelf rather than that “common humanity.” Then he used an illustration that he said came from central Africa.

“When people meet each other on the path and one says ‘Hello,’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Good morning.’ The answer is not, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ Or ‘Hello.’ The answer is, ‘I see you.’ We have to see each other; because in an interdependent world, we really can’t succeed without each other. That will be your great challenge.”

Mr. Clinton said taking the challenge was a spirit that was as old as the nation. Benjamin Franklin, he said, had started the first volunteer fire department 40 years before the Declaration of Independence. The former president challenged Ohio State’s graduates to get involved.

“We can turn the tides on AIDS, T.B., malaria. We can find the answer to avian influenza before it infects large numbers of human beings. We will eventually deal with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all the other neurological problems that we face. But it will come to naught unless we believe that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences,” Clinton said.

The former president has given several commencement addresses around the country recently and has delivered speeches at the University of Michigan, at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Harvard. He’s also been raising money for his wife’s presidential campaign.

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