June 02, 2007
President Taylor, a little known but unique fact about Knox College is that we follow, what might be called, an "architectural clock" when calling Presidents to the sacred steps of Old Main. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, came when Old Main sparkled in her very first year. Today in Old Main's 150th year we welcome President Clinton, a Democrat, to our south porch. When striking a balance between the two parties, we are nothing if not patient and deliberate. I am pleased to report that both the man and the building are in their prime.
When Bill Clinton left office, he eschewed the attractions of the endless fairways and the eternally vexing putting greens in favor of a commitment to devote his energy, intelligence, and experience to solving some of the world's must pressing problems. He formed the William J. Clinton Foundation to meet the challenges of global interdependence with specific emphasis on programs in health, economic empowerment, leadership development, and racial, ethnic and religious reconciliation. Immediate attention was given to international causes such as the treatment of HIV/AIDS and the mitigation of global warming. President Clinton's vision is to address each with an initiative that strikes at the core of the problem. The Urban Enterprise Initiative helps small business owners compete, the Healthy Schools Plan tackles the runaway problem of childhood obesity, and the HIV/AIDS initiative helps governments negotiate reduced costs for much needed drugs and medical services. Recently, the Clinton Global Initiative brought together over 1,000 leaders and registered 213 individual and corporate commitments totaling in excess of 7.3 billion dollars. Every effort is a partnership of national leaders, corporate executives, professionals, and legions of caring individuals. A similar inspiring example can be found in the exemplary efforts of President Clinton and the senior President Bush to solicit donations and to organize relief efforts, first for the survivors of the Asian Tsunami and again for Hurricane Katrina. In a time of war we must treasure and support the works of peace and charity hoping for the day when they will be the common coin of the people of the world.
President Taylor, I strongly recommend that you and our honored Trustees immediately review this man's resume and offer him a job. I have just touched upon one point on a very long list of achievements, and I have yet to read the pages that describe his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, his years in the Oval Office, his best selling autobiography, and his method of playing the saxophone. Now it is true that he currently holds no office, he has never received tenure, and he did not hold his most recent position for more than eight years; however, all of that can be explained by certain sentences in the United States Constitution that are generally understood to prevent such a thing. Surely Knox has a position for this man somewhere, perhaps as the head of a new department of Humanitarian Service.
Our new department will have a curriculum, of course, and many, many students. There must be a guiding metaphor. And for that purpose I offer this: Each of our lives might be seen as if from a high mountain peak. In the valley below there is a frozen river. It is the unalterable past where nothing can be changed. At the summit, the air is rarefied but clear. It is the present moment drained of all fear and anxiety. On the horizon we dimly discern the men and women of future generations. All who are there will be shaped by our decisions and actions. We strain to see the expressions on their faces. Do they regard us with circumspection, puzzled by what we have done, or are they smiling with appreciation for our wisdom, foresight and generosity in making a better world?
Mr. President(s) from your vantage point on this south porch of Old Main look with favor upon the class of 2007. They are ready to be the good citizens of our common future. Hear them say in unison, "Yes, we can!" And, to you, dear seniors, to your families and guests, and to our honored alumni and trustees, and to my esteemed colleagues, may I present, the newest member of the class of 2007, William Jefferson Clinton, for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.