When former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 returns to New Haven this Saturday, he will find Yale much the same as it was three decades ago.
Sterling Memorial Library still sits at the far end of Cross Campus, New Haven’s pizza is still among the best in the country, and Yale still boasts one of the nation’s most competitive law schools.
Yet for the two-term president and enduring public figure, much will seem foreign.
Clinton’s favorite New Haven restaurant is no longer open for business, the Supreme Court recently stripped his law degree of some of the power it had 28 years ago, and the United States is now on the verge of armed conflict with a terrorist organization, not deep into a war in Vietnam.
The third U.S. president — and second Clinton — to speak at Yale during the University’s Tercentennial, William Jefferson Clinton will give the 3 p.m. closing address to a series called “Global Perspectives,” which will feature Yale faculty and several other alumni, including former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81.
In an interview by fax Wednesday, Clinton said he would address the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath in his speech.
“I will try to explain the relationship of the present crisis to the world in which we live and the future of today’s students,” said Clinton, a Georgetown University graduate and Rhodes Scholar.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73, whom Mr. Clinton met at Yale, spoke at Class Day in June. President George W. Bush ’68 spoke that same weekend at Commencement, and his father, former President George Bush ’48, addressed alumni at last spring’s Tercentennial weekend.
In the interview, Clinton declined to answer questions about Sept. 11, but chose instead to talk about his time at Yale.
Born August 19, 1946, Clinton was the second U.S. president to be impeached by Congress, yet remained popular throughout his eight years in office.
At Yale, Clinton said he was interested in the things that intrigued many Yale law students of his day — politics, fiction and friends — but took special interest in his future wife, a young woman named Hillary Diane Rodham.
Like Sen. Clinton, the former president was heavily involved in political activism when he was at Yale and worked on George McGovern’s presidential campaign during the summer and fall of 1972.
At the time, Clinton was still more than 25 years from the presidency, but he was even then committed to the values that he invoked in both his campaigns for the White House.
“When I was at Yale,” Clinton said, “I wanted to go back to Arkansas, practice law, start a family, enter politics, and advance the causes I cared most about back then: civil rights, education, economic opportunity and peace.”
And when he wasn’t pursuing politics, Clinton said he loved eating at New Haven’s many restaurants.
“I loved all the pizza places and Basil’s, a great Greek restaurant that closed when I was president,” he said. “By happy coincidence I was in New Haven and was able to eat there one last time just before it closed.”
Perhaps most importantly, Clinton’s version of the “when Hillary met Bill” story bears out the version Sen. Clinton gave the News in an interview last spring.
The two had a class in common, yet Clinton said he was too shy to engage her in conversation.
“One night I was staring at her in the library,” he said “She walked across the room and said if I was going to keep staring at her and she was going to keep staring back, we should at least know each other’s name. She told me hers, and I somehow managed to get mine out. Shortly after that we had our first date.”