Clinton Yale’s Class Day Speech
The former president arrived at Yale on time and delivered a sweeping speech at Yale's Class Day, touching on education, the environment, health and other issues, while also mentioning his special connection to the university.
Thank you very much, Caitlin, Bobby, ladies and gentlemen.
I wasn't sure I was coming to fashion week. President Levin, Vice President Lorimer, if I had – you know, all I got was this little class napkin. I feel if it were a little bigger, I'd turn it into a doo-rag so I could feel right at home. I just went over and said a word to
Dean Brenzel, because you may have seen he had an article in the Huffington Post. It said, now if they'd asked me to give this speech, this is what I would have said. It's really good. It's really good. But if you had done that then I'd have missed all your hats. How could anybody possibly be worried about the future of the world when it's in your hand? I mean anybody with this kind of judgment and head gear will have no problem solving all the other challenges.
Let me say, in all seriousness, I'm honored to be here. I congratulate the graduates, and I want to thank you and your families, your
friends, the faculty and staff for letting me share this day. I am profoundly grateful to Yale because of the things I learned, the professors I had, the friends of a lifetime, the fact that I still work with a lot of people from Yale in public health and endeavors we have together in Ethiopia and in Liberia. The President of Liberia, Ellen
Johnson-Sirleaf is here and I thank her. But most of all, I'm grateful because if I hadn't come here I never would have met Hilary. So, she's been in Shanghai for two days at this big world expo they're having over there, and she called me last night and told me she had given this speech and how much it meant to
her, how much you loved it. She didn't prepare me for your sartorial splendor quite as much as she should have, but I'm very proud of the work she's doing and I'm very grateful to Yale because I would have missed it if I hadn't come here.
And we've had a remarkable life together. I say that because we've been gone from Yale since 1973 -- that's 37 years, if my math still works. And yet it seems to me as if we were here yesterday. So I thought and thought and thought. I said how can I be brief, which I owe you -- you know, when you have as good a sense of humor as you've displayed today, you're at least entitled to a
short speech, and still say something that might be helpful.
Here's the best I can do.
The world you are going into that you will shape, should be the most interesting, exciting, fulfilling, stunning time in human history. I mean after all, we've torn down all these barriers of time and space and people are no longer confined to where they were born, and so America has become explosively diverse. You might be interested to know that at our pavilion in Shanghai, one of the things that is most emphasized is how there's somebody here from everywhere. I'm trying to get the World Cup of soccer to
come to America in 2018 or 2022, and my main pitch is this is the only place you can go where everybody will have a home team cheering squad. It's an amazing thing and it makes life a lot more interesting. The internet is amazing.
When I became President, believe it or not -- I know for a lot of you this is the dark ages, but it was really just yesterday -- on January of 1993, January 20th, you know how many sites there were on the entire worldwide web? 50. 5-0.
More than that have been added since I started talking. The average cell phone on the day I took the Oath of Office weighed five
pounds. Now you know somebody like me with big hands has to have one wide enough so that you only had to redial about one in every four times. It's a fascinating time. Look at all these scientific discoveries that have been coming out -- the genome was sequenced first in 2000, probably the major scientific advance of the eight years I served, and I spent a lot of your family's tax money trying to get that done.
But certainly the most amusing, off-shoot of genome research appeared the last couple of weeks when we learned that every one of us in our genomic make up are between 1% and 4% descended from neanderthals. And I'm
glad all of us made it because if only the men had made it, we'd never hear the end of it. And now we all have an excuse for every dumb thing we've ever done going back to age five. It's great.
I say that but it is interesting.
It is interesting furthermore that the genome sequencing's first profoundly significant finding was that, from a genetic point of view, all human beings are 99.9% the same. Then Craig Ventor's independent project said, no that's all wrong, we're only 99.5% the same.
Now with three billion units, 4/10 of 1% is significant, but from a social, political,
philosophical point of view, it doesn't matter. You just look around this vast crowd of your classmates, every single physical difference you can see is the product of somewhere between 1/10 and 5/10 of a percent of your genetic makeup. And what I want to say is most of us spend 99% of our time thinking about that 1/10, the 5/10 of 1%. You're going to have a lot of people tell you, and it'll all be true, how smart you are, how gifted you are, how fortunate you've been, how, as our committee said, if we just give one of you a lever, you can move the world.
It's all true.
What I want you to take a few minutes
thinking about is the 99.5% of you, because my basic belief is the only way that you can make the most of the world that lies before you, is to believe that it's interesting and fascinating and profoundly important as all of our diversities are, our common humanity matters more. And that leads us to certain fundamental conclusion, as does the fact that our fate has caught up with the fate of the planet which we occupy. I think about this a lot now. I think about what young people who have more tomorrows than yesterdays are to make of the world they have inherited.
It's really quite extraordinary.