Monday, June 04, 2018

My 50th Reunion at Georgetown University, by President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton wrote a wonderful letter to his classmates about his 50th Georgetown University graduation this past weekend. To my fellow graduate of the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, I say, "Hoya Saxa, Mr. President."

Here it is:

My 50th Reunion at Georgetown
This weekend I joined many of my friends from Georgetown's Class of 1968 at our 50th Reunion. Beforehand, we were each asked to write a letter to our classmates sharing reflections on our time together and our lives since graduation. Here's what I wrote:
After 50 years, we return to Georgetown with memories to stir, stories to tell, and, I hope, plans for the future, full of good things to look forward to and work for.
What did Georgetown mean to us then and what does it mean now, in a time even more full of possibility and peril than 1968? How you answer that may depend on what you learned at Georgetown and how you feel about it, how you measure the life you’ve lived since and will measure it from here on in.
My most indelible memories are of my teachers and friends. The professors valued teaching, graded their own papers, and made themselves available. The old curriculum was rigorous: six courses a semester and no electives until second semester junior year. It was designed to develop our capacity to retain, organize, understand, and explain information and ideas; then to solve problems by thinking critically and creatively.
I loved it. I can still see Dr. Irving sitting on his desk, swinging his leg constantly, telling us we had to write clearly and precisely—and scribbling his pithy comments in the margins of our essays when we used murky or florid language (“Turned into a carrot, did you?” “A capricious little bilge pump!”).
Otto Hentz taught Logic with chalk on a blackboard and with compassion for us poor souls under the illusion that we already were logical. Thankfully I can still turn to him to make sense of things.
Father Sebes taught World Religions with a passion that made you believe he was a follower of whatever faith he happened to be covering that day. He offered every foreign student who was not fully fluent in English in our class of more than 200 the chance to take the final exam in one of the ten or so languages he was fluent in.
Ulrich Allers made Political Theory personal and practical, using Max Weber’s Politics as a Vocation to remind us that politics is a “long and slow boring of hard boards,” work that requires humility and care because the exercise of power over others puts your soul at risk.
The 14 of us in Hisham Sharabi’s seminar on Great Ideas quaked on the day our book was up for discussion, for we had to open with 10 minutes summarizing it or analyzing its main ideas. If we were a few seconds over time, he would cut it off, or would let us drone on a bit before skewering us. But we learned that if you can’t explain a book’s essentials in 10 minutes, you probably didn’t understand it.
Dr. Giles was a liberal from Oklahoma who believed in the living Constitution and the obligation of the Supreme Court to define, protect, and expand liberty in each new era. I nodded off in class once, and he said loudly that everyone could see his point, “unless you’re a redneck from some hick town in Arkansas.” The class’ laughter would have awakened the cemetery. What we learned was worth it.
I could go on like this for days and I bet you could too. I hope the reunion becomes in part an excavation of lost encounters with our professors.
When I showed up at my freshman dorm room, 225 Loyola, my roommate from Long Island, Tom Campbell, was already there and had plastered a Goldwater for President sticker on the door. I was surprised and curious but not outraged. A division like that today might be too much to take. Some students, right or left, might even insist on another roommate. If he or I had done that, we might have missed a lifelong friendship, including an evolution of our political conversations.
He called me one night at the White House during my epic budget battle with Newt Gingrich. By then Tom was an airline pilot, and he and Jude had two fine sons who grew up to serve our country in uniform as their dad did, and an adopted daughter with cerebral palsy. He told me that he was able to care for his daughter, but her best friend was the child of a single mom who rode a bus an hour to and from a minimum-wage job. He said the girl required an expensive wheelchair and six pairs of special shoes a year. Tom said, “So let me get this straight. The Gingrich budget proposes to give me a tax cut and reduce a minimum wage earner’s subsidies for her bus rides and her daughter’s shoes and wheelchair?” I said he was right and he replied, “Bill, that’s immoral. You can’t let it happen. Keep my tax cut and take care of my daughter’s friend and her mother.” We are more than our labels.
After three years together, Tom and I moved into an old house at 4513 Potomac with Kit Ashby, Jim Moore, and Tom Caplan. We’ve all had interesting lives, and our friendship has endured. We moved on but never moved out on each other.
I’m grateful to all the Georgetown women and men who helped me along the way, including several who served in my administration, or who supported my foundation or found some other way to adopt Professor Quigley’s admonition to take personal responsibility to make the future better than the past.
I’m especially grateful to Denise Hyland Dangremond for asking me to write this, and for her big, caring heart.
Barbara McMonagle Gillies, Pam Soldano Catazano and Walter Bastian helped me adjust to life in a new culture. I wish Wally had made it to our 50th. He was a fine public servant and made our freshman year a lot more fun.
I appreciate the efforts Bob Billingsley, Paul Maloy, Jim Moore, and others have made to keep us involved with and supporting Georgetown. It’s led to deep friendships with two classmates who are like brothers to me now even though I didn’t know them well when we were students, Brian Greenspun and Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster.
I’m grateful to have known Father Tim Healy, who became President after we graduated and sadly died a month before my inauguration with a draft of my inaugural speech in his typewriter. In his honor I used my favorite line from it—that the election had “forced the spring” in America. His protégé and worthy successor, Jack DeGioia, has been uncommonly kind and welcoming.
Our class produced three presidents, including Alfredo Cristiani, whom I did not know, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom I knew and liked, as well as Prince Turki al Faisal, who served as Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.S. and U.K. and for 23 years as head of the foreign intelligence service including when I was President. We shared a summer school class together in 1967 that began our long friendship.
Chances are good most of you feel the way I do: we made friends for life that enriched, even enabled, the best of this half century, and made the worst more bearable. Tell them that when we gather.
So what did it mean? I think it is unlikely that I could have been President had it not been for Georgetown. It is certain that I would not have understood as well the time I served or what was needed.
And what do our Georgetown years tell us about today? As you all know, I have had a fortunate, improbable life. I give thanks every day for the 47 years I’ve shared with Hillary (our 43rd anniversary coming up), for the amazing daughter I love and admire, for the brilliant and good son-in-law that every daughter’s parents dream of, and my grandchildren, ages three and almost two, who any day now will be performing on Broadway and doing quadratic equations.
It’s more than enough. But we can’t quit. And we can’t give in to the current craze to demean and debase, to leave no insult unhurled and no stone unthrown. We can’t just quit or criticize, because we’re old enough to remember well another time of great struggle over whether our differences are more important than our common humanity, whether conflict is more important than cooperation, whether subtraction and division will chase away our children’s and grandchildren’s dreams before we rediscover the virtues of addition and multiplication.
In 1968, as today, it wasn’t clear what side would prevail. Our whole adult lives would have been different if America had chosen separatist tribalism. Whether we’re dealing with cyber warfare, climate change, the opioid crisis, the movement for fair and equal treatment for all in and out of the workplace, or the complex uncertainties of AI and robotics, diverse groups of free people make better decisions than homogeneous ideologues and lone autocrats.
We have to follow Tennyson’s Ulysses:
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil…
Some work of noble note, may yet be done…
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
So have fun this weekend and sail on. We’re children of the ‘60s: Here Comes the Sun.

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