Pursuing Happiness in an Interdependent World
Commencement 2011Printer Friendly Version
With New York University rapidly fulfilling its goal to be the premier “global network university,” graduating 8,000 world citizens in 2011 from campuses on six continents, it was fitting that Bill Clinton, sometimes called the president of the world, gave the 179th commencement speech on May 18. Clinton elucidated the pros and cons of globalization in a stirring, sometimes personal, and at times politically pointed address.
The former president invoked a sweeping array of world issues, including global warming, the lack of opportunities for young people in poorer countries, and the ease with which not only violent actors but also disease and financial instability can cross national borders.
Clinton acknowledged that his own story of being raised by a hard-working, single mother to become the 42nd president of the United States is not only an American Dream but also possible only in wealthier countries. He expressed concern that future generations could potentially be shut out: “The problem with all countries that have great systems is they get long in the tooth. They become so successful that those who run them are more interested in holding on to their positions than advancing the purposes for which they were established, more interested in maintaining the gains of the present than achieving even greater ones for our children in the future.”
In the past 30 years, Clinton argued, the U.S. had been hurt by two ideas that benefited the most powerful in society: the notion that corporations should cater to their shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders and the assertion that the government ruins everything it touches. Mimicking those who espouse privatization, essentially declaring “there is no such thing as a good tax, no such thing as a bad tax cut, no such thing as a good regulation, no such thing as a bad deregulation,” Clinton countered that the idea “contradicts the evidence in the United States and every other country in the world. The only truly successful countries have both strong economies and effective governments and a public-private partnership to share the future.”
He left the graduates with advice that they look inward before setting their future goals: “The great challenge of your life will be how to live out your personal story, pursue your personal dreams, enjoy your personal compassions and compulsions and interests in a world that is getting better, not worse, where the forces of positive interdependence outweigh the negative ones.”
Also honored at commencement was Kenneth Feinberg ’70, who was awarded the Albert Gallatin Medal for outstanding contributions to society. Among many roles, Feinberg has served as special master to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and is currently administrator of the BP disaster’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility.