By Jason Silverstein, Editor-In-Chief, and Justin Fleming, Managing Editor
President Bill Clinton’s highly anticipated Meliora Weekend keynote address on Saturday, Oct. 22 started on an unintentionally humorous note.
Ten minutes after Clinton’s speech was scheduled to begin, the lights dimmed in the Eastman Theatre’s sold-out Kodak Hall, and the audience was greeted not by the 42nd President of the United States, but by a promotional video for the William J. Clinton Foundation, shown on a screen hanging over the stage.
The video highlighted Clinton’s post-presidential philanthropy, with pictures and information about Clinton’s various service projects throughout the world.
It concluded with a reminder that $10 donations can be made to the Clinton Foundation through text message, which drew a short, collective laugh from the audience of students, alumni and many other Meliora Weekend visitors.
Clinton’s actual address, however, was devoid of any such politicking. Forgoing discussion of his foundation’s efforts in the U.S. and overseas, Clinton instead gave a timely and serious speech that considered some of the greatest issues facing our country today, and even offered some hope for their resolution — which, Clinton said, is almost completely dependent on universities.
UR President Joel Seligman briefly addressed the audience prior to the speech, saying that Clinton drew the largest audience in the history of Meliora Weekend — beating the record from Hilary Clinton’s address in 2002, actually — and that there was “no more appropriate speaker” for a weekend commemorating the great progress of UR.
Clinton came on stage to a standing ovation and quickly gave a personal air to his speech, complimenting UR for its academics, diversity and the effect it has had on his own life.
“The University of Rochester has been really important to me,” he said, singling out New York businessman Tom Golisano — a major contributor to the Clinton Foundation — and also mentioning a number of assistants, spokespeople and supporters throughout his political career who had ties to UR.
Clinton said our country is currently facing “three major problems”: We are “too unequal, too unstable and too unsustainable.”
Those themes set the course for the rest of his speech, as he broke down each problem by explaining how they became so severe and how they can be addressed.
Speaking of the first two problems, Clinton said that “you want a certain instability in your country,” since the natural order of society is that “in order for some people to succeed, others have to fail.” However, he noted that ours is a “very unequal world,” and that in the American economy specifically, “the distortion has been pretty serious.”
Clinton then moved on to discuss the environment, painting a somewhat dismal picture of what our world could be like if climate change continues along its current course.
Framing this issue within a political context drew a mixed reaction from the crowd, as he emphatically stated: “We live in the one nation on Earth where in order to win the nomination of one political party, you have to deny climate change.”
Clinton stated his belief that “it’s not okay to be too ideological, where you know the answer before you know the argument.”
That brought Clinton to the part of his speech that earned perhaps the most audience reaction. Going off of that point, he chastised the “mind made up” mentality he finds troubling in today’s politics and said that while our society had become “less racist, less sexist, less homophobic” than it has ever been, we still have one great prejudice remaining: “We don’t want to be around people who disagree with us.”
“I force myself to watch Fox News,” he said to laughter and applause from the audience. “I listen to people who disagree with me, and I look for columnists who I think are smart, intelligent and thoughtful but who don’t share many of my political views.”
Clinton contrasted the atmosphere of partisan intolerance in the U.S. with the progress occurring in other nations as a result of meaningful discussion between political leaders. As an example, he highlighted the environmental advancements coming out of Brazil as a result of their open political dialogue.
Later in his address, Clinton spoke of the situation for current college students, offering pointed advice for the current college students in the audience: “The first thing you need to do is finish here,” he said. “Just stay and finish. It’s the patriotic thing to do.”
Student loan reform was one area in which Clinton expressed hope for an improvement to the landscape for young college graduates. He advocated a new bill that will allow students to pay back their loans as a small, fixed percentage of their income, which he hopes will lead to more students finishing their college education.
Clinton concluded his address by accenting a note that ran throughout — the need for political cooperation in America.
“If you want a shared future, arguments are good, but cooperation works better than conflict,” he stated.
After the address, which lasted about 50 minutes, Clinton sat down for a Q-and-A session with Seligman. Over the course of about 40 minutes of conversation, the topics ranged from revitalizing Rochester to Clinton’s favorite inspirational reads.
Seligman’s first question, however, addressed whether there was a reason for college students entering the workforce to have the same “cockeyed optimism” Clinton characterized himself as having. Clinton’s answer was a “yes,” albeit a somewhat reserved one — he stressed several advantages that college students in the U.S. have, but also that the future for them depends on a turnaround in economic growth.
Still, his prevailing message was one of optimism.
“Don’t ever make a decision to be disappointed. Make a decision to be happy, to be fulfilled, to succeed,” he said to a round of applause.
In general, Clinton’s insights seemed to resonate with the students in attendance.
“He really challenged us to look forward to the future and think about how we can make a difference,” senior Yoni Bokser said. “He got the audience thinking about the problems in the world today and how we can anticipate the problems of the future.”
Senior Tess Petersen echoed the sentiment.
“Sitting in the front row for the Bill Clinton address was a once in a lifetime, unforgettable experience,” she said. “His powerful words and inspiring message will resonate with me for years.”
Additional reporting by Kait Holden, class of 2013.
Fleming and Silverstein are members of the class of 2013.
Clinton stream a success
By Leah Buletti
In response to student outcry over the difficulty of obtaining tickets President Bill Clinton’s live keynote address or the simulcast venues, UR made the decision to stream the speech to the campus community — a decision announced publicly only two days prior.
Despite the short amount of prep time, UR Information Technology (IT) claims that the stream was accomplished almost flawlessly.
Approximately 400 students, faculty and staff members took advantage of the stream, according to Chief Information Officer John Barden, who said this number is almost certainly an underestimate, given that many people watched the speech in groups.
The primary web stream had a 30 second interruption early in the address, “but the rest of the nearly hour and 30 minutes was seamless,” Barden said.
About 20 people stopped in or called the IT Help Desk on Saturday morning before the address, but after it went online, IT received no further questions or concerns, Barden said.
“Advancement and UR IT are thrilled that we were able to broaden the audience through the use of this technology,” Barden said. “Thanks go to the student body for the feedback that provided a launch pad for [an] agreement with the Clinton foundation that made this possible.”
Freshman Tess Jacobs, who watched the low-resolution stream in her room with her roommate, said she found the quality “quite good.” Her only complaint was that the live stream could not be paused.
“It was a good decision to stream the speech,” she said. “I was angry that so few students were able to get tickets and would have been more angry if there was not a way to stream [it].”
The stream even worked across the pond, according to at least one account. Junior Jason Russell watched the stream from his flat in London thanks to the University VPN connection that routes an internet connection from anywhere in the world through UR’s server. He said the only minor flaw was that he had to refresh the feed a few times after it froze.
Russell said he was “very happy with the quality and the fact that I was able to see what [Clinton] had to say, just like everyone on campus could.”
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.
Simulcast is sufficient alternative
By Melissa Goldin
For those unable to obtain tickets to President Bill Clinton’s live address, four simulcasts were offered at Kilbourn Hall, the Class of ’62 Auditorium at the School of Medicine & Dentistry, the Palestra and Strong Auditorium.
Freshman Joseph Santantasio attended the simulcast in Kilbourn Hall and said that the video was an acceptable alternative to the live address because “[he] didn’t really feel disconnected at all.”
Freshman Keith Provost though, noted that he “would have preferred to see [Clinton] in person,” but that he understood that the competition for tickets was very high.
After an introduction from UR President Joel Seligman, Clinton’s appearance onstage was greeted with hearty applause at the simulcast in Kilbourn, despite the lack of physical proximity between him and the audience. The audio and visual of the stream were slightly mismatched in certain instances but not enough to be particularly off-putting.
Just as Clinton was about to commence his speech, the video froze. The problem was rectified in a timely manner, but the audience missed the very beginning of the address, although this issue did not affect all simulcasts. It did result in a laugh in response to Clinton’s comment that “you’d be surprised if the screen went dark” though.
The speech itself elicited a positive response from attendees.
“It was really an eye-opener about a lot of things,” Santantasio said.
Senior Matt Demars also found the speech to be of a first-rate quality, noting that “[his] background isn’t terribly strong in economics or politics, but [he] thought it was really well thought-through and informative.”
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.