March 03, 2011
By: by Scott Waldman, Staff Writer, Times Union
ALBANY -- Former President Bill Clinton told those who crowded UAlbany's SEFCU Arena not to waste their position of privilege.
Clinton told about 4,500 students, alumni and staff at the school that being able to focus on a career of their choosing at a top American school was a luxury compared with the daily fight for survival people their age face in developing nations.
"You will be much happier if you get up every day and make the future you want," he said.
Clinton spoke Wednesday night as part of the school's World Within Reach speaker series. His wide-ranging hourlong talk included praise for the Obama administration's economic stimulus, a desire for more bipartisan cooperation and praise for Sarah Palin for having enough of a sense of humor to appear on "Saturday Night Live."
He said the political rhetoric whipped up by cable news shows had hobbled debate, which was preventing true economic reform. He said Democrats and Republicans would have to learn how to avoid "fact-free" platitudes that prevent balancing of the budget.
Clinton repeatedly praised the school's nanoscience program, which he called "one of the keys to America's preeminence and scientific growth" in the next decade. He frequently compared the life of American college student with that of someone without running water, sanitation or shelter, and called on those gathered to build a world of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities.
Noshin Fani, a 20-year-old accounting major, said she had little memory of Clinton's presidency because she was only 10 when he left office. But she was struck by his advice.
"You don't have to be rich or poor," she said. "I'm not Bill Clinton or Barack Obama and I can make a difference."
It was the second time Clinton appeared at UAlbany before a sellout crowd. The first time, in 1994, was a mob scene, with students running through campus in hopes of getting a glimpse of a sitting president. Clinton said he first came to Albany as a speaker at an education conference 25 years ago, when he was Arkansas governor, and that he enjoyed a day racing to sites around the city. He said his wife bemoaned the fact that she had to fly to Switzerland to talk about Libya while he got to come to Albany.
Clinton has focused on charity work throughout the globe since leaving office, and said he has now been to 130 countries. He said people in America enjoy a system of government and services that largely rewards people for their work, and that other countries will always lag behind if they do not have a similar system.
He said the U.S. needs a fiscally conservative government so the next generation isn't borrowing money to support Americans' privileged lifestyle. He attacked the lifting of the tax on the country's wealthiest citizens, including himself, and said that has contributed to an escalating deficit since Ronald Reagan took office.
Clinton said he was concerned about Middle East because people try to hijack every revolution. He said democracy could flourish in those countries and praised the young people for risking their lives to bring it about peaceably.
"Young people in Cairo were about the most impressive people I've seen in my life," he said.
UAlbany officials would not disclose Clinton's speaking fee except to say that it was paid for with student fees and not out of the school's general fund.
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