William Jefferson Clinton LAW ’73, the 42nd president of the United States, will address the class of 2010 at Class Day this May.
An annual celebration of the graduation of the Yale College senior class, Class Day is marked by many traditions: a student reflection, creative hats — and a speech. Clinton, who spoke at Yale’s tercentennial in 2001 and at his 35th reunion in 2008, will return this spring to be the featured speaker. Seniors interviewed cheered the announcement, and University officials said they have not yet determined the security precautions for the event.
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“I am delighted that President Clinton has agreed to be the Class Day speaker,” University President Richard Levin said in an e-mail. “Every one of his speeches at Yale have combined his clear affection for his alma mater, his encyclopedic knowledge of global affairs and his boundless optimism.”
In the past, visits from world leaders have led to heightened security. When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke at Class Day in 2008, Old Campus saw “airport-type screening” at the entrances; authorities cleared out and swept through the dorms, armored police stood outside 43 Hillhouse, where Blair was staying, and his security detail remained on alert throughout the day.
Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees campus security, said administrators will work out the details of the event’s security, including whether the speech will be ticketed, over the next few months.
“For obvious reasons, we won’t announce details very far in advance,” she said.
Penelope Laurans, adviser to the senior class for Class Day and acting master of Jonathan Edwards College, said the committee responsible for choosing this year’s speaker drew up a short list of candidates last spring and quickly settled on Clinton as their first choice. Class of 2010 Secretary Bobby Gibbs ’10 and Treasurer Caitlin York ’10 — who worked closely with Laurans — first wrote to the William J. Clinton Foundation over the summer and continued the letter campaign until they received a definite answer last month, Laurans said.
York said she, Gibbs and Laurans took a risk in waiting on Clinton’s decision — had he said no, they would have had to approach a less high-profile speaker who would still be available at that point in the year. But Gibbs said he is glad Laurans encouraged them not to abandon hope.
Gibbs and York agreed they were excited to invite a speaker whom everyone in the senior class recognizes, but they said Clinton rose to the top of their list because of his connection to Yale and because they were confident he would give a meaningful speech.
“I think it’s important that he urge us to make some difficult decisions and try to feel responsible to this world that we live in,” York said. “He knows that not all of us are going to become American presidents, but I hope he can relate to us how people can make a difference on a more minor scale.”
Gibbs said he thinks the former president, though a Democrat, is no longer a partisan figure. His charity work includes collaboration with two former Republican presidents, Gibbs added — with George H.W. Bush ’48 on Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami, and with the younger Bush on the Haiti earthquake.
Speaking at Yale’s Tercentennial on Oct. 6, 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Clinton emphasized the importance of teaching tolerance and compassion in a world riddled with hatred and doubt, and lauded Yale for being a “global university.”
Class Day co-chairs Katherine Woodfield ’10 and Jasper Wang ’10 said they are thrilled about the choice.
“I think this will bring a gravity and importance to the day that it might not have had otherwise,” Wang said.
Ten members of the senior class interviewed said they are excited to hear Clinton speak and do not anticipate dissatisfaction based on political differences.
Kiet Lam ’10 said he thinks Clinton’s speech will steer clear of politics in favor of topics more relevant to the occasion. Mercedes Rodriguez ’10 said she thinks many Yale students care whether a speaker is well-known and will be happy to have such a high-profile figure deliver the address. She added that her friends are also pleased about the choice of speaker.
“Few universities have the ability to attract former presidents,” said Michael Boyle ’10. “It’s a reminder of what an amazing place this is and how lucky we are to be here.”
The Clinton Foundation, which Clinton established after leaving office in 2000, has worked to combat HIV/AIDS and climate change and to encourage economic growth in Africa and Latin America. The foundation also brings together global leaders for discussion of key issues through the Clinton Global Initiative.
Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73, received an honorary degree at last year’s Commencement ceremony and spoke at Class Day in 2001. Last year’s Class Day speaker was Christopher Buckley ’75.