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Former president speaks to sold out arena

By John Borgolini
On March 12, 2011

Students, faculty and the Albany community gathered in a packed SEFCU Arena last Wednesday when former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke.

Student Association President Justin Wax Jacobs and University at Albany

President George Philip respectively began SA's fourth installment of the World Within Reach Speaker Series before giving the stage to the former U.S. president.

Philip immediately showed his appreciation for SA's efforts in this series which has also brought former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a debate between President George W. Bush's Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, and just this past semester renowned journalist Barbara Walters.

"This series is once again fulfilling its goal bringing a former president of the United States," Philip said.

Then came Clinton to a roaring applause and a lone "I love you!" from a female member of the crowd. After thanking his introducers the former president praised how privileged the UAlbany students were to be enrolled at the university.

"You are fortunate to be in a university that has repeatedly been recognized as one of the finest in the country in terms of excellence and affordability," Clinton said. "If you don't remember anything else I say tonight: make the most of these years, go as far as you can, develop your mind and realize that what we know and what we do with what we know will make all the difference."

"This university has given you choices. That is a precious gift. And if you want to bring back the upstate economy, if you want to bring America back, if you want to live in a better world, you have to finish the job here and build on it to keep learning for a lifetime."

Clinton, who was paid $200,000 for the speech, went on to explain his thoughts on the current state of the world – where we are, where we're going and how we are going to get there – and how he believes that a lot of the time the framework is wrong.

"If you ask the wrong question, it's hard to get the right answer," he said.

"The right answer to the wrong question is still the wrong answer."

The former president stayed with the current status theme explaining that the world has three major problems – it is unequal, it is highly unstable and it is unstable because of humans' production and use of energy, citing the unequal distribution of healthcare and instability in the Middle East among other issues. Clinton did offer a solution.

"I happen to believe, and I believe it's true to upstate New York, that a serious effort – I mean a really serious effort – to change the way we produce and consume energy will produce more jobs, more new businesses, higher incomes than anything else we can possibly do," he said.

Clinton continued to offer solutions and shared his ideas on reform.

"We have to get in the tomorrow business; we have to get in the reform business," the former president said. "We have to make sure that every single important system in America works for the people and is directed by people who know the facts and are prepared to do what is necessary to move forward."

To wrap up his speech portion of the night, Clinton spoke about the main points he wanted the audience to take with them including the ineffective healthcare system, and how it helps those who are making more money rather than the people who already have other financial problems. He joked that it helped people like him or "there would be somebody else giving this speech."

Before opening the students' questions and answers segment, Clinton left the crowd with a message of hope.

"I don't think there is any problem we have that we can't overcome," he said. "What I want you to think about is answer the how question, and think about what you can do."

Clinton then sat down for questions and answers with SA Director of Programming Joe Bonilla which included four student questions ranging from the importance of charisma, whether there is a solution to the debt situation and whether public universities can help create growth.

In an event filled with laughter and applause it was only fitting that the second of the four questions dealt with the role of comedy in politics and the portrayal of the president on NBC's long-running "Saturday Night Live."

President Clinton responded by saying we take ourselves to seriously and telling a story involving NASA and a 3.6 billion year old rock from the moon:

"You know when you see the president with a world leader in the oval office, sitting in those two chairs and there's a little oval table there and couches on both sides? I put that rock on the table. And every time the Republicans and Democrats would come in, the fights started, somebody raised their voice, I would say, ‘Guys, you see that rock there? It's 3.6 billion years old. Now, we're all just passing through – just chill out.'"

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