THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 11, 1996
Remarks By First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Commencement
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you all so much. It
is such a great honor and pleasure for me to be here this
morning. It feels great to be home, to see so many friends, to
reminisce about past times here at the University at Fayetteville
and in Arkansas.
Chancellor Ferritor, and President Sugg, Chairman Epley and
distinguished members of the Board of Trustees, all of the
administrators and faculty members, Mrs. Jones, and students,
particularly those who have just been honored, but all of you who
are graduating either with baccalaureate degrees or advanced
degrees as part of the ceremonies today.
I do think of Fayetteville as home. It is the first place I
lived when I followed my heart to Arkansas and came here to join
the faculty of the law school because I had me a young man from
Arkansas named Bill Clinton. We loved our years at the
university. I can remember still sharing an office in Waterman
Hall with Milt Copeland. I can remember the un-air conditioned
classrooms in the heat of the fall and the spring. I can
remember many walks across the campus with my friends, fellow
professors like Diane Blair or Ann Henry. I can remember the
students who I faced every day in class and felt that they were
amongst the smartest and most promising young people in the
entire country. I can remember all that it took for me to become
a member of this community, both because I was on the faculty,
but because I loved living here.
There were some adjustments, I do recall, to living in
Fayetteville. I had never lived in a place quite as small as
this town was then, more than twenty years ago. And, when I'd go
to the IGA and write a check for food and the woman behind the
cash register would look for a minute and then kind of size me up
and say, "Oh, you're the new lady law professor." [Laughter]. I
realized that I was in a place where everyone would know me and
that was a phenomenon that I would either get used to or have to
put up with in some way. I also realized that the connections
among people here at this university were ones that I had missed
in my previous years. And that I soon began almost taking for
One Saturday when I was in my office and catching up on the
work of the past week and still very concerned about knowing all
of my students, even though I had quite large classes, I realized
that one young man had not appeared in class for an entire week.
And I worried about that, so I called information. I got an
operator, those were the days when you actually had a human voice
on the other end of the telephone. And I said, I'm looking for a
number for...and I named the young man, "John Jones." And the
operator said, "Is that Johnny Jones on Oak Street?" And I said,
"I believe that's right." And the operator said, "He's not
home." I said, "Excuse me?" She repeated, "He's not home, he
went camping." I don't know that anywhere else in the world
could a university faculty member pick up the phone and talk to
an information operator who knew where her student was. But
that's the kind of place this university was, and is, and I trust
will continue to be. A place of excellence and commitment, but
also of those connections, those values that Jason talked about.
I want to say for this audience particularly, that this
university is one of our nation's best kept secrets. It's one of
the finest public institutions of higher learning anywhere. I
would put this faculty up against any other in the nation. I
would put the students up against any others in the nation, and I
would recommend the spirit of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and
community that this place embodies to many, many others. So I
want to thank all of you for being part of a state and a
community and a university I love, and for inviting me back to
share this celebration. I have to confess that when Chancellor
Ferritor referred to my earlier graduation speech in 1988, I was
a little taken aback because I honestly didn't remember speaking.
That's what happens when you get older. At least to me. But I
did remember, seeing on the platform together, Senator Fullbright
and the late and former Representative Claude Pepper. And I
recall so distinctly their being here, both of them with their
connections to this university, and one kidding the other about
how he was older and therefore wiser and the other was younger
and therefore could remember more. I of course, thought I was
merely a spectator. I now recall that I actually was speaking as
well. Because I saw so much that happened here in those years
that I do remember, of which I was not a part at all. It was
watching the pride on the faces of young students who were the
first in their families to attend the university. Talking to
parents who had sacrificed and given all they could to ensure
that those students would be here. And since tomorrow is
Mother's Day, I want to thank and congratulate all of the
parents, especially the proud mothers and fathers, but also
grandparents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, all whose
sacrifice has made it possible for the accomplishments we
It is something that we often take for granted in our
country, that we have the finest system of higher education in
the world. That we educate so many of our young people, sending
them out into this changing global economy and global society.
prepared as best we can provide for them to meet the challenges
of their time.
Now it is common for commencement speakers to try to sum up
or at least to illuminate some part of that experience that
awaits all of you. But there isn't anyone that I know of who can
predict with any accuracy or certainty what is going to happen
tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that. It becomes even
more difficult when we live amidst the pace of change that marks
the end of this century and the beginning of this new millennium.
If we look back through history, we can see that every
generation faced challenges and many who preceded us thought that
they were living in times that would never improve, that would
not get better. We can look back at the last millennium and we
can see people who then thought civilization was at an end. We
can look back at this last century, and none of us, were we here
in 1896, I believe, could have predicted at all what has happened
since. But we do know that the challenges and the change are a
constant. And yet we also should see them as opportunities. And
there are two ways each of us has to address both, in our
individual lives and in our lives in the larger world.
Yes, a new global economy gives us the possibility of
greater prosperity, but also stiffer competition. Yes, new
technology can bring us closer together, but virtual reality
cannot substitute for human connections and relationships. Yes,
the dynamics of family life are changing, with mothers and
fathers and sons and daughters struggling to make sense of who is
responsible for what in the most intimate of our relationships.
With people in the workforce in this country at higher than ever
averages, but nothing substitutes for the love, the attention,
the discipline and the acceptance that comes only through the
And the world around us is changing. We see that every day.
Now in the midst of such change it is always tempting to look for
and seize upon easy answers, to use stereotypes and
generalizations to describe the world, to box it up to try to
make sense of it. That is, I believe, to be expected.
We find ourselves sifting and sorting out all of these
competing tensions and values. And sometimes if we are not
careful, simplifying them to the point that we do ourselves and
the times in which we live an injustice. That is one of the
reasons why education, creating that tension inside where we are
able to carry different values together to make sense of
disparate pieces of information is so critical. But we have to
do it with an understanding of the importance of those with
educations to stand up against the easy answers, the stereotypes,
For example, you know the kind of thing I'm talking about.
We see it every day in the media:
If you're under 25, you're an apathetic Generation X'er.
If you're over 40, you're a self-indulgent Baby Boomer.
If you're a liberal, you're a bleeding heart.
If you're a conservative, you have no heart.
If you're a Democratic President from Arkansas, you're
accused of being all of the above, depending on what day it is.
And if you're the wife of a Democratic President from
Arkansas, you have to worry about your hair a lot. [Laughter].
The truth is, there is no single label or definition that
applies to any one of us, nor to any issue we face. Our world is
too complex for that. So we need, as difficult as it may be, to
shift our thinking away from stereotypes and labels that prevent
us from seeing what is happening in front of us and from having
some sense of a vision about what we need to be as people as we
move forward. How do we take the values that have stood the test
of time and move forward into a time that is so rapidly
One place to begin is where we all come from. Our families,
our communities, our work, our country. The people who have come
before us at every point in history have faced the same issues.
Individually, we have struggled for meaning in our life, economic
security, relationships of importance to us, to make a
contribution, to leave something behind.
In the economic world, we have struggled to both have and to
create jobs, to raise incomes, again, to leave something a little
better than what we found.
But we also are defined by and help define our times because
of our role as citizens. And our relationship to our political
process and our government. I know how fashionable it has become
in recent years to bash politics and government, to look upon
public service with contempt. I hear it all the time, the
airwaves are filled with that kind of talk. And I'm grateful
that we live in a country that permits us, encourages us, to
criticize our government and our political process.
But I do get tired of hearing people blame every problem we
have on government. That to me is a cop out. Government is part
of the larger society in which we live and work, but so are
businesses and schools and religious institutions and families
and community groups. All of us have a responsibility to do what
we do better, to make a greater contribution, and to work toward
some vision of a society that realizes our fundamental values.
Now of course government is not perfect by any means. And
the practice of politics has never been easy. Max Weber once
said that politics is "a strong and slow boring of hard boards."
And often the progress that is made seems minuscule in comparison
to the issues we confront.
But politics is about more than casting and counting votes.
Government is about more than buildings and bureaucrats. Both are
essential to the functioning of our democracy and both are
critical to the future our country holds for any of us.
We are a better country today because previous generations
worked together through the political system to solve the
problems they faced. Previous generations were creative when the
devised the G.I. Bill or Social Security or Medicare. When they
passed child labor laws or other protections for workers to equal
the balance between business and labor. When the minimum wage
was established as the floor on which a decent living should be
built. Previous generations in a bipartisan spirit turned to the
environment to clean up our air and our water so now we don't
see, as I did, years ago, lakes that burned because they were so
polluted. We have seen much change because of government and
politics which has benefited those of us in this great arena, our
parents, our grandparents, and our children.
There is no enterprise more important for the investment in
all of our people than education -- e