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.