In front of a lavender backdrop lit by swirling lights and before 4,500 cheering students, faculty, and alumni, President-turned-international-philanthropist Bill Clinton took the SEFCU Arena Stage at the University at Albany on March 2. The speech by the former president was part of the World Within Reach lecture series hosted by the university.
The UAlbany Student Association paid $200,000 for the former president to appear, all of which went to the William J. Clinton Foundation. Though the bill was covered by the $85 student activity fee collected along with tuition from every student that attends the university, the student association has been criticized for excessive spending while the university faces potentially crippling budget cuts to its academic programming.
The student activity fee is separate from academic funding, and supports the various student groups on campus, as well as events hosted by the university including the World Within Reach speaker series. Past speakers have included Colin Powell, Barbara Walters, Howard Dean, and Karl Rove.
Drawing heavily from his work with the foundation and his experience in office, Clinton discussed the challenges facing all nations, both wealthy and developing, and cautioned students against succumbing to the “collective attention deficit disorder” pervasive in the media today.
“A lot of the challenges we face are hard,” said Clinton. “They require consistent effort and they require a level of knowledge and an understanding of facts that are not apparently valued as much as I think they should be in the modern debate.”
Clinton discussed tactics for meeting the trials of “the most interdependent age in human history,” asserting that society must strive to benefit from that interdependence in order to continue to succeed. He spoke of creating a world of non-zero-sum games, where all the competitors are better off for participating in the competition.
“We have to build of world of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, where we appreciate our differences, but we can still have a sense of common interest and community,” said Clinton.
The president also spoke on the economy, citing the opportunities for growth provided by the need to shift environmental policy and praising Obama’s and Bush’s stimulus efforts as necessary steps to save an economy in “freefall.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of the challenges faced by the nation and the world and encouraging the students in attendance to stay involved, Clinton ended on an optimistic note. “I don’t think there is any problem we have that we can’t overcome.”
Following the talk, he answered a series of moderated, prescreened questions submitted by students.