March 2nd, 2010 | News, University

Bill Clinton to speak at Class Day

Bill Clinton LAW '73 last came to Yale to speak at his 35th reunion in 2008.
Bill Clinton LAW '73 last came to Yale to speak at his 35th reunion in 2008.

The Class Day speaker this May will be a Yale Law School graduate and former President of the United States: Bill Clinton LAW ’73.

Class Day, held annually to celebrate the graduation of the Yale College senior class, is marked by many traditions: a student reflection, creative hats and an address. Clinton, who spoke at Yale’s tercentennial in 2001 and at his 35th reunion in 2008, will return this spring to address the class of 2010.

“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.”

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. Laurans said she worked extensively with Class of 2010 Secretary Bobby Gibbs ’10 and Treasurer Caitlin York ’10 to bring Clinton to Yale, adding that Gibbs and York first wrote to the Clinton Foundation over the summer and continued the letter campaign until they received a definite answer last month.

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 so far into 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 would recognize, 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: George W. Bush ’68 on the Haiti earthquake and George H.W. Bush ’48 on Hurricane Katrina and on the South Asian tsunami.

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.

The foundation Clinton founded 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 is married to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73, who 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.

  • 2010


  • super

    “Clinton is married to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton”

    Now that’s journalism!

  • 09grad

    This is amazing news for the 2010 class and family. Mr. Clinton will no doubt give a wonderful speech.

    Makes you think just how much the class of 2009 committee dropped the ball in choosing its speaker

  • Yale 10 Parent

    Hurray! Will there be a run on tickets? I’m worried about whether my son will get around to organizing tickets for us- How do I go about getting them myself? Or what should I nag him to do?

  • 88Grad

    There were never tickets required for Class Day before. Not sure how it’ll work with a high profile speaker like President Clinton but I would hope it would be first come first served as it always used to be.

  • Anon

    WTF? Graduating grad students have to miss this!

  • another 09grad

    Chris Buckley was a brilliant speaker!! He was the highlight of Commencement weekend.

  • bubba

    I think we all know the real reason Bill Clinton agreed to speak… he saw “That’s Why I Chose Yale” and was so moved, he couldn’t resist coming back to campus.

  • grr

    Those of us in 2009 got hosed–I guess I will be trying to come to this.

    2010 Mom–No tickets are necessary (unless they change something b/c its Clinton, but they didn’t really do that last year with Hilary there or with Blair the year before).It is a rush to get good seats, though and it gets crowded, but no tickets.

  • another another 09 grad

    I love how we were sandwiched in between 2 former heads of state, Tony Blair in 08 and Clinton now. I agree with #3. I hope to make it up for this Class Day (provided there are no ticket requirements, like last year). At least I got to see a Clinton at my graduation from afar.

  • Recent Alum

    I used to deeply hate Clinton back in the 90’s, but I’ve got to say that given the way the current WH is destroying everything about this country I would give pretty much anything to have him replace the current administration.

  • yale 2010


  • Y09

    While I’m completely happy not to have had Tony blair’s mediocrity and cravenness shoved down my family’s throat, and Mr Buckley was completely underestimated, I have to wonder how the selection process actually works and why it’s so uneven year to year. Or maybe I just really want a third Clinton term.

  • JE ’10

    Good work Bobby and Caitlin! Glad to have you guys on SCC.

  • yale11

    Just saying, Yale better get someone just as good for the class of 2011.

  • Honestly

    Class Day ’09 was a memorable event. Buckley did a great job: everyone loved him. Of course it was a different genre of speech but it was a major hit on its own terms. It’s great to have Clinton, but there are only two Clintons – both of whom have now come – and you can’t have a head of state every year. There are different KINDS of good speakers and Yale almost always seems to get one of those kinds.

  • Yale 08


  • Y’10

    I can’t believe they chose such a partisan and disreputable individual.

  • a satisfied ’09er

    Ah Disgruntled ’09ers. Were you even there? Chris Buckley gave one of the most enjoyable speeches I’ve sat through in a long time. Former heads of state are great, sure. But don’t be so shallow and star struck. B. Clinton, H. Clinton both came to Yale while I was there. I heard Tony Blair speak twice. Don’t treat the relative fame of the class day speaker like some sort of ultimate gauge for your self worth or the worth of your degree. B. Clinton does a lot of commencement speeches at schools of varying prestige. Ultimately, it’s your friends and classmates who make the day meaningful.

  • yet another 09 grad

    seriously, last year’s class day speaker was a disappointment, nicely done 2010

  • 09er

    Buckley’s speech contained no substance whatsoever and was mildly entertaining at best…

  • Assessing

    People are so entitled. The threats – -“Yale better get someone just as good for 2011” – so shallow and self centered. The cluelessness – as if every speaker can be a head of state. Who do you want next? Queen Elizabeth? You can’t have a head of state or former head of state every year, and so you get speakers who are excellent in their own way. The people in ’09 who feel “cheated” or “hosed” – these are such pathetic, shallow statements. Also, Buckley was a hit. He’s a satirist -and witty and galvanizing in his own way, with a fabulous sense of style. No one dropped the ball. You are just the type of people who are unable to see beyond yourselves – I want this, I want that – give me the best -get me Bill Clinton or it better be someone as good – so sad.

  • Y10

    I’m thrilled with Clinton, but let’s stop hating on last year’s Senior Class Council, please. Chris Buckley may not be a head of state, but his speech was far more entertaining — and far more warmly received — than Tony Blair’s the year before. (And, yes, I was there for both of them.)

  • To ’09 from ’12

    Yes, Chris Buckley had less star power. But I read his speech and I thought it was fantastic — super relevant to Yale students, well written, and just really solid overall. I know Bill is a bigger name, but I wouldn’t have been let down.



  • Another 09 Grad

    This is the best commencement speech, given by JK Rowling at Harvard in 2008:

  • Recent Alum

    #23, are you saying that a guy who sold out his conservative roots by endorsing a socialist for President was received more warmly at Yale than a leader who stood by his allies no matter the political cost? I’m not sure why, but I’m not really all that surprised…

  • Disappointed

    What? Elliot Spitzer wasn’t available?

  • @#10

    Tony Blair is not and has never been a head of state. The UK reserves that inherited title for the Battenburgs – as long as they aren’t Catholic, of course.

  • it’s special

    Fact is that Bill Clinton is one of the most amazing speakers EVER. He is likely to give a transcendent speech. That is partly why his coming is so exciting. Others would – and have – given very good speeches and people who complain are just being snarky. I’ve been an usher – Buckley was a hit and great in that genre, took everyone into the spirit of the day. Blair knew he was controversial and was tentative about the occasion – though it was exciting to have him. But no doubt Clinton’s coming is special.

  • 09grad

    It’s not an issue of simply being a head of state. It’s an issue of what values or sense of direction a speaker can convey to the graduating class; in other words, an opportunity to learn from someone who has accomplished so much in his/her lifetime.

    Buckley’s speech, as far as a speech goes, was fine: witty, funny, well crafted and finely delivered. But it wasn’t anything that made me think about my life and its direction, or about myself – it wasn’t a learning experience for me, nor I suspect, for many others. It was easily forgettable because there was little worth remembering.

    As Hillary sat behind him on the podium to receive her honorary degree, I couldn’t help but think that I would much rather hear what she had to say – hear what made her tick – than Buckley at the lectern.

  • 10 Mom

    I just feel lucky!

  • Sven

    Will there be any interns working this event?

  • Suggestions for 2011?

    Hillary Clinton spoke at Class Day – I think in 2001. People are not invited twice. Perhaps ’09 you would care to offer us a list of people from whom graduates could learn, who are excellent speakers, and who could impart to students values and direction? Alas there are many such people, but when they are accomplished but not well known, complaints are rife. Do enlighten those in 2011 on names of appropriate future Class Day speakers.

  • Y’11

    Bill Watterson would be amazing. Too bad he’s a recluse

  • question time?

    Yale Law didn’t ask Justice Breyer about his opinion on Citizens United v FEC, flooding our politics with corporate dollars and drowning out individual citizens’ voices.

    Does that mean Yalies won’t ask Pres Clinton if he regrets signing the death warrant for the Glass-Steagall Act which greatly contributed to our seemingly ongoing financial crisis.

    Is everyone too PC? Is there one brave soul?

  • Tanner

    I’m sure he’ll be very intrested in the first postings from the Dean’s New Sex at Yale web-site

  • robert99

    bill clinton. gravitas?