Former President Bill Clinton mixed humor and conviction as he encouraged Florida A&M University graduates to become the “how generation.” Clinton also warned of the importance of interdependency in the world and the need for graduates to leave their mark for the benefit of future generations.
“Interdependency means you can’t get away from each other from around the block or around the world,” he said. “It can mean good or bad.”
Addressing graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences at the first of three commencement ceremonies in the new Multipurpose Center Teaching Gymnasium Sunday morning, Clinton lauded FAMU’s accomplishments in the fields of pharmacy, physics, and the environmental sciences.
“…because of the work you’ve done in the environmental sciences…because of the number of graduates you’re bringing in to thinking about the relationship of the economy to the environment…we have to make sure that your grandchildren have the chance to come here as graduates,” said Clinton.
At times, Clinton spoke professorially to the near capacity crowd. He talked about inequality, the economy – domestic and abroad – and international poverty leading to death from “AIDS, TB, malaria, and infections related to dirty water,” said Clinton.
Reiterating the importance of leaving their mark in the world for the benefit of future generations, Clinton emphasized the importance of renewable energy.
“Clinton’s speech was on point and he delivered the right message. He’s always on top of it and knows what he’s talking about,” said Nathaniel Horne parent of Lauren Horne an arts and sciences graduate from Chicago. “These graduates are coming out at a different time, it’s harder to find jobs…Clinton’s message definitely helped out.”
The former president also linked this dedication to future generations to the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, whose foresight and decisiveness ended slavery and set the stage for the education of descendants of former slaves.
“We have to keep thinking about the future and building it together. Lincoln signed the moral Land Grant Act in 1862, setting aside land in every state for the creation of public universities and colleges that are open to people that don’t have anything,” he said. “At the moment when the very existence of the country was hanging in the balance, Lincoln and the United States Congress said, ‘I think we better give our kids something to look forward to’… ‘We need more people who understand the world they live in’.”
As a lark, the former president offered the graduates one final test. Clinton asked them what was the true significance of President Barack Obama’s historic election.
The test would require a two-part answer Clinton said.
“Every one of you would get the first part right… he lifted from us an awful burden by just being accepted by the majority of American people as a candidate,” he said.
The second part was the erasure of self-doubt, Clinton said.
“Now we can look our children in the eye – not only our African American children, but all our kids – and say don’t you tell me you don’t have to work to make a difference,” he said.
“The question about Obama’s inauguration as 44th president needed to be asked,” said Sherrita Commey an environmental science graduate. “Many people knew the answer to the first part, Clinton’s explanation of the second part was an added significance to his entire speech.
After the speech, Clinton was awarded an honorary doctorate degree for being a “humanitarian and visionary,” said FAMU President James Ammons.