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Remarks at Clinton School Graduation Reception

It is a special honor to be chosen by the students to deliver these remarks. The Clinton School and its students are unique so to be able to address you today is a memory that I will cherish.

“Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.”

Dr. Albert Schweitzer spoke those words. Schweitzer is a man who deserves to be better known today than he is. I. He was an accomplished 20th century theologian, musician, physician, public servant, and political activist. When he turned 30 in 1905, he decided to become a doctor in Africa so he could help repair the damage done by colonialism. He raised money by giving organ concerts, eventually opened a hospital in what is now Gabon, and devoted most of the rest of his life to that effort. A pacifist, he spoke out against colonialism and militarism and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 when he was 77. He was not without his faults which he acknowledged, including an inability to shed the European paternalism toward Africans. Nevertheless, his intense devotion to creating a better world by making a concrete contribution – that is, by doing something wonderful that someone might imitate- is the model for public service as it is being defined at the Clinton school.

He also told people to “search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity.” I see those words come to life in our students. The Clinton school is a unique place because we are all creating a new discipline. We don’t have a recognized department with an established canon. And that is why teaching here is so much fun. Because unlike more established disciplines, the students are co-creators with the faculty and the administration. With every class, we add something more to what Public Service means and with every project you add something to what public service does. It is an amazing experience in which I ALWAYS learn more from the students than they learn from me because they are living examples of Schweitzer’s dictum of people investing their humanity.

Finally, teaching at the Clinton School invigorates me.  Part of it comes from the challenge of thinking about things in new ways; or reaching new insights about well worn topics; or being released from the shackles of law school’s Socratic method. Or trying to explain why my assignments are so long. But the major reason comes from being around energetic, idealistic students who take such joy in what they are doing. Your class was loud, talkative, engaged. Sometimes we wandered far afield; sometimes we didn’t wander very far at all. But throughout it all, a sense of joy pervaded what you did.

In the end, that is why Schweitzer kept coming to mind as I prepared these remarks. I have kept outside my door for over 30 years my favorite Schweitzer quote. It has reminded me why I went into legal services when I graduate from law school but today it reminds me even more of the students from the Clinton School.

And, if you don’t remember anything from my class, I hope you will remember these words.

He said: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Friends: keeping seeking and serving. Thank you.

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May 7, 2010   6,002 Comments