Former President Clinton tells Yale graduates to listen to those with whom they disagree

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Clinton speaks to Yale grads about unequal world

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Former President Bill Clinton told Yale seniors on Sunday to listen to people with whom they disagree.

In a Class Day speech that included points similar to a commencement address he gave a week ago in West Virginia, the Yale Law School alum said today’s college graduates will be left to deal with a world that has three major problems.

“It is too unstable; it is too unequal, and it is completely unsustainable,” Clinton said.

He urged them to change that, and said that will mean working together.

“One problem we have in the modern world is, we’ve got access to more information than ever before, but we don’t all listen to the same information,” he said.

A tidbit of information Clinton didn’t give the Yale seniors was that he was involved in a minor traffic accident on the way to the event.

State police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Clinton’s secret service van was in a traffic jam that was the result of accident just north of New Haven on the Merritt Parkway when it was hit from behind.

“There was no injury, no endangerment to Clinton,” Vance said. “The motorcade continued on to its destination, and we’re piecing it all together.”

Clinton told WTIC-TV that the accident was a fluke.

“It was one of those deals where everybody in the passing lane slowed down, and we all slowed down, and one person didn’t,” he said. “It happened to be the person behind us.”

During his speech, Clinton told Yale seniors that while the country is less sexist, racist and homophobic than it once was, people today only want to be around those who agree with them.

“In our media habits, we go to the television sites, we go to the radio talk shows, we go to the blog sites that agree with us, and it can have very bizarre consequences” he said, citing the controversy over the origin of President Obama’s birth certificate.

He also warned that as information becomes more available, so does the potential for its misuse.

He noted that Faisal Shahzad, the man accused of attempting to bomb Times Square, received a college degree in the United States before flying back to Pakistan to train as a terrorist.

“It shows you that when you tear down all the walls, and you can break through all the barriers of information, that the same things that empower you to get access to more information more quickly than ever before could empower you to build bombs,” he said. “It’s an unstable world.”

Clinton said he believes the mission of every empowered person in the world should be to increase the positive forces and decrease the negative forces of the world’s interdependence.

“We have to be relentlessly committed to change,” he said. “And change is hard.”

The address continued a Yale tradition in which graduation speakers typically don’t speak at commencements. The major speech to seniors is instead given the previous day during Class Day festivities, an event that also includes the wearing of silly hats.

The former president said he considered turning a handkerchief he had been given by the class of 2010 into a do-rag so that he would better fit in.

“I wasn’t sure I was coming to fashion week,” he joked.

Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was Class Day speaker in 2001, and received an honorary degree last year.

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