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UR has had many notable speakers in recent years, including United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and neurosurgeon and CNN Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta.
This time, the University has pulled out all the stops to bring former President of the United States, William J. Clinton, out to Rochester to deliver the keynote address during Meliora Weekend 2011, which is set to take place this fall from Oct. 20-23.
The search for a keynote speaker generally begins even before Meliora Weekend of the current year is over, and intensifies immediately after it comes to a close.
There was a running list of about 200 potential keynote speakers with recommendations from all different sources, including deans and past Meliora Weekend participants.
“I’m looking for someone who’s got a compelling story who can provide insight on our world today,” Executive Director of Alumni Relations Kevin Wesley explained. “[Clinton] had been someone we had looked at in past years, but … this seemed like a great way to kick off our second decade [of Meliora Weekend]. The work that Clinton has done, particularly with his foundation, is … an important message for people to hear.”
Wesley noted that he did not actually have any direct conversations with Clinton in negotiating his appearance. The University collaborated with a representative of a speaker’s bureau to craft a proposal that was then given to the staff of the William J. Clinton Foundation.
The foundation is an organization created by Clinton after he left office in 2001.
It works to fix problems worldwide including poverty, global health, economics and the environment, through partnerships among citizens, for the former President to approve.
“I definitely thought that it would be possible [to have Clinton come],” Wesley recalled. “With many of our Meliora Weekend keynote speakers, it’s [just] a matter of their very busy schedules. We’ve had in the past some potential keynote speakers who were very interested in speaking… but couldn’t because their schedules prevented them.
“I was thrilled that we would be able to bring someone of his renown to speak [at Meliora Weekend],” he went on to say.
The announcement of Clinton’s appearance was made this past Sunday, Feb. 13. Communications were sent out to the entirety of the University community as early as possible that morning.
Updates were posted on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in addition to the regular editions of alumni, parent and student newsletters that were sent out.
President Seligman was the first to be informed after Clinton’s appearance had been confirmed.
“I have been particularly impressed by work he has done since leaving the White House,” Seligman said. “His thoughts on building and strengthening communities throughout the world may be particularly inspiring. I am delighted that he will be joining us.”
Despite controversy during his time in the White House, the United States had the sturdiest economy in a generation and benefitted from large economic expansion throughout his two terms.
President Clinton has  also been very proactive since finishing his term in the White House. Besides establishing  the Clinton Foundation, he has assisted in raising money for recovery efforts from various natural disasters in recent years, including the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2008’s Hurricane Ike, serving as the U.N. Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.  He continued assisting with natural disasters in 2009 as U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti, when he coordinated with the government and citizens of Haiti to help them recover after the devastating earthquake.
Appreciation regarding Clinton’s visit has spread to the student body as well.
“I really support him in all of his endeavors … and I appreciate that the University is bringing [in] someone political and very well known and someone we’ll all be excited to see,” sophomore Erika Howard said enthusiastically.
Even those students who are not quite as politically aware, it seems, are pleased at the announcement.
“I’m not that political,” junior Adbel Reyes admitted.  “Unfortunately, when it comes to Clinton I have no really in depth idea as to what he’s doing now … However, having him come here is definitely something that I feel a lot of people will be excited about … We are having an ex-president come here, which is, in my opinion, a pretty big thing.”
The specifics of President Clinton’s visit are being kept under lock and key though.
“This is going to be a very special Meliora Weekend in some other ways that I can’t share yet,” Wesley said.  “I tease the fact that there’s more to come.”
The title of Clinton’s talk has been released, at the present time, as “Embracing our Common Humanity.”
“It will be interesting to see what kind of message he delivers,” Richard Niemi, a professor in the Department of Political Science, said.  “I imagine at least part of his talk will touch on world events.  Right now the most obvious topic for him to address would be the question of democracy in the Middle East.  But being at a university, perhaps he will say something about education as well.”
When asked if he was permitted to talk about the security that will be in place surrounding the visit, Wesley responded with a definitive “no.”  He was also not able to share any information regarding fees that they are paying for Clinton to speak.
The location of the speech as well as pricing on tickets has yet to be determined. It is assumed that a substantial amount of people will be interested in attending the address, and therefore the setting that will be able to accommodate the largest number of people is being established.
There is always an immense number of people that flock to Rochester for Meliora Weekend — nearly 8,000 people showed up to the Sesquicentennial celebrations in 2000 (almost 5,000 more than had been expected) and 6,500 this past year in 2010. There is suspicion, though, that President Clinton will be an added incentive to venture over to the University.
“We do anticipate that his presence as a keynote speaker may lead to a larger than usual attendance at our Meliora Weekend,” Seligman observed.
Clinton’s appearance may bring in more guests than usual at Meliora Weekend, but it is also thought that it will have positive effects on the school even after his departure.
“It will bring visibility to … UR,” Niemi observed.
This kind of view appears to be evident even among the student body.
“I… think he’ll give a great speech, and I feel like having someone [of] his caliber is really good for our school,” sophomore Evan Marcantonio said.
For now, though, UR must wait patiently and simply speculate about what Clinton will be able to bring to the University.
“President Clinton’s tenure as president was certainly not without controversy, but even his fiercest opponents admire his ability to connect with audiences,” associate professor in the Department of Political Science David Primo said.  “I expect his speech … will generate a lot of buzz.”
Goldin is a member of
the class of 2013.

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