Bill Clinton Gives First of Lecture Series at Georgetown
April 30, 2013 – Former President Bill Clinton (SFS’68) today told an audience in Georgetown’s historic Gaston Hall that being a good citizen in the 21st century “requires every thoughtful person to try to do some public good.”
The 42nd president of the United States, whose speech was geared toward students, said that if young people want to go into a field that serves the public, they should focus on four things: “people, purpose, policies and politics.”
Clinton said the most important aspect is listening to people’s stories and what their needs and interests are.
“Most people get in real trouble and abuse power when they forget that the purpose of their power is not to impose their will on others but to let other people be empowered to live their own lives better,” he said. “Or as I always say, have better stories.”
Today's talk, part of The Clinton Lectures at Georgetown, was the first in a series at the university exploring the people, events, lessons and principles that shaped his career in public service.
Relaying stories about his early childhood in Arkansas in a house without a television or private telephone line, Clinton explained how his grandfather and uncle were role models and shaped his life.
Everybody Has a Story
His grandfather drove an ice truck during the Great Depression, and though poor himself, hired children from less fortunate families.
“We take certain things for granted and I say that because it’s very important for you, if you want to do this work, to realize something I learned from my grandfather … which is that everybody has some kind of story,” Clinton said.
Listening, he said, is an especially important skill in politics.
If you want to serve, you need to begin with the stories."
—President Bill Clinton (SFS'68)
“In a free society if you want democracy to work, people have to be able to hear each other and whether someone can hear you depends in part on what you say,” he said. “But even more on how you say it and whether first you have listened to them.”
But he said there’s a significant problem with people listening to others in this country.
“We just have one remaining bigotry in America,” he said, “we don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.”
The former president also noted that while this century has seen tremendous gains in science and other areas, there is too much inequality and economic instability in America.
This is the second time Clinton has given a series of talks at Georgetown. In 1991, as the governor of Arkansas and Democratic candidate for president, he presented three “New Covenant” speeches to students on Responsibility and Rebuilding the American Community, Economic Change and American Security.
“This is an historic day on our campus,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, “We celebrate the inaugural lecture in a series that we believe will have a deep and meaningful impact not just within our university community but throughout the academy and the world of policy, politics and global affairs.”
Purpose of Service
The lecture included a question-and-answer session moderated by former Georgetown University Student Association President Clara Gustafson (SFS’13).
Clinton also told stories of his time at Georgetown, including anecdotes involving influential professors, including the late Rev. Joseph Sebes, S.J., and Rev. Joseph Zrinyi, S.J., and Rev. Otto Hentz, S.J., who still teaches at the university.
“I love the Jesuits,” Clinton told the audience.
At the end of his remarks, Clinton reminded students that the purpose of serving others isn’t to please oneself for doing a good deed but to bring to fruition a level of peaceful coexistence among everyone in today’s world.
“I hope you will remember this: the purpose of service is to help other people, not to make you feel good about yourself …,” he said, “not to impose everything you think should be done on other people but to create a world where we can all live together because it’s so interdependent.”