VOLUME 33, NUMBER 25 THURSDAY, April 18, 2002

UB turns out to hear Bill Clinton
Former president addresses students' concerns during wide-ranging speech

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Reporter Assistant Editor

Sporting a UB pin and a red, white and blue ribbon on his lapel, former President William Jefferson Clinton strolled to the podium in Alumni Arena like a man who has time and leisure on his side—or so it would seem.

As he outlined past accomplishments and future plans to the mostly student crowd that filled the arena to capacity on April 10, Clinton implied that he will never be a "has been," and retirement will never be a part of his vocabulary.
  "You will find that your life will always be a work in progress, and as long as America is around, it will always be a work in progress," President William J. Clinton told UB students at the conclusion of his talk on April 10 in Alumni Arena.

In fact, if his wide-ranging goals for several international initiatives come to fruition, he eventually may rival Jimmy Carter in his post-presidential accomplishments.

As the Student Association's Student Choice Speaker, Clinton's renowned rhetorical genius and ability to connect seemingly disparate issues to one common theme captivated the audience and left students visibly impressed and even inspired.

Almost as a punctuation mark to Clinton's arrival at UB, the malingering cold, wet weather abated to bolster the mood with a glimpse of spring—warmer temperatures and a near-perfect blue sky. Students waited outside in long, but orderly lines, filing in quickly through the security check point at the entrance to the arena. They were respectful and optimistic, and many were eager to praise the president of their youth—most of them grew up under Clinton's presidency—and like Lauren Dunn, a third-year psychology major, thought he did an excellent job as president.

"I liked a lot of his policies, especially related to international relations—and it's not every day you get to see a president," Dunn said.

Many students said they wanted Clinton to address the crisis in the Middle East and interestingly, several said they hoped Clinton would speak about education issues, repeatedly dispelling the "apathetic youth" myth.

"I'd also like to see how he handles any type of criticism," said Ed Regner, a junior majoring in physical therapy, "and hear what he intends to do after his presidency."

Regner and fellow physical therapy majors Andy San Filippo and Saul Zion, also juniors, all agreed that current global conflicts and rising tuition costs were major issues of concern to them as they waited outside the arena. After Clinton's speech, the three men were not only euphoric because they were able to shake Clinton's hand, but also because he spoke directly to their concerns.

Zion said Clinton did a good job explaining his own efforts to solve the Middle East crisis as president.

"I really liked that he reiterated all of his accomplishments," San Filippo said, adding that he also appreciated the former president's emphasis on education.

Steven Hurt, a senior computer science major, said that what attracts him to Clinton is the former president's ability to relate to people of different cultures and backgrounds. "I really like Bill Clinton. He is a person who is for the people—that's what I really admire about him," Hurt said as he searched for a seat inside the arena.

The mood inside the arena was one of quiet, but electric anticipation—far from the rock concert atmosphere some anticipated. SA President Chris Oliver introduced Clinton as a man who can shed light and wisdom on a "very unstable world in unstable times." Oliver also noted that Clinton had "graciously waived his fee to speak with us—this is a gesture that shows how much he truly cares about students."

"No other event in UB's history has generated such a great student response," said Oliver.

With the superb timing of a seasoned politician, the sax-playing Clinton praised the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, which entertained the crowd awaiting his address, and lauded Carl Dennis, UB professor of English who had won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry two days before. "I'm just glad to be back in Buffalo," he added.

Clinton began his address describing the "slew of paradoxes" that underscores the explosion of technology and the rise of globalism.

"On the day I was inaugurated president in 1993, there were only 50 sites on the World Wide Web; on the day I left office, there were 350 million and rising. This collapse of barriers and distances, and the spread of information and technology has given us a world without walls, but the fundamental fact of this world is that while it is interdependent, it is a long way from being integrated" he said.

The political, environmental, economic, societal and cultural paradoxes Clinton highlighted reveal a world in which the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, but the most significant threat the world faces, Clinton said, is entrenched in the "marriage of ancient hatreds rooted in religious, racial, tribal and ethnic differences, married to modern weapons of destruction."

He described the horrors of Sept. 11 as the perfect illustration of the dark side of global interdependence, telling students that the greatest conflicts of their time will occur between and within countries due to the "disintegrative forces" of terrorism, drug-trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, environmental destruction, poverty, ignorance and disease.

He didn't just encourage students to get involved, but insisted—almost as a mandate—that no matter what they choose to do, they will have a role in the kind of community, nation and world they live in and should support the focus on homeland security and the ongoing efforts of the Bush Administration in Afghanistan.

Clinton told students that while they have grown up more comfortable with diversity than previous generations, many of the problems the world faces revolve around the answer students would give to a simple question: "Which is more important to you when looking at people around you—your interesting differences or your common humanity? You have very different notions about the nature of truth, the value of life, the use of power and the content of community, depending on how you answer that first question," he said.

"It's important that you develop the right outlook about what your relationships are going to be with people who are different than you, whether they are in your school or neighborhood, in your country or around the world," he added.

Clinton tied many of his thoughts on international relations to the bloodletting in the Middle East, saying that there is more than enough blame to go around, but that he was delighted that Secretary of State Colin Powell had been sent to the region to help resume peace negotiations. Israelis, he said, don't believe anyone cares about them but the U.S. and because of that, he added, America also has the greatest ability to stand up for the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians.

Calling Jerusalem and the region "hallowed ground to the Muslims, Jews and Christians," Clinton said it is a supreme irony—testifying to the sinfulness of human beings—that the most hallowed ground in the world "is so sullied with the blood of children."

Perhaps one of the most important points Clinton made to students can be summed up in his philosophy that much of life is always a work in progress.

"The main point I want to make is that in public life, like private life, the work of perfection is never achieved. You will find that your life will always be a work in progress and as long as America is around, it will always be a work in progress."


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