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Clinton Address Highlights Need for College Education

Column by Orli G. Bahcall
Associate News Editor

This past week I had the chance to attend another commencement, in my hometown of Princeton. As I found myself with a special seat behind the White House staff, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, and the governor of Georgia, I knew the day would be memorable. After lunging to shake their hands and get their autographs, I was thrilled that the chief of staff didn't mind talking to a simple MIT undergraduate. He was even more friendly (or just more good-natured) than many of my friends - he chuckled at my silly joke.

However, as President Bill Clinton took his place in front of historic Nassau Hall to deliver a commencement address, I realized that this day would be even more memorable for all those who strive to better themselves through education.

The President had come to deliver a message not just to honor Princeton's graduating class, but to pledge support of all those who strive for a higher education.

Clinton's message reached beyond the four years of education each graduate was completing to question how education related to larger American goals.

As the 21st century nears, he explained, students face a revolutionary era of probability. This is an era of opportunity for those with a higher education. Their degrees open up the possibilities of the world.

"Because of the education you have," Clinton told the Princeton graduates, "if America does well, you will do very well. If America is a good country to live in, you will be able to build a very good life."

But, Clinton said, it is not enough to open the future for graduates of top universities. What about the rest of America? "America will be stronger if all Americans have at least two years of higher education."

As the only Rhodes Scholar president, Clinton showed a profound appreciation of how personal education can contribute to the growth of the entire community.

I'm sure that as the election nears we will hear more about Clinton's plans for how he will make education possible for every American, but until then perhaps his words will provide a vision for some of our own graduating class.

The highly technical knowledge students receive at MIT will start them on the path of leading the technological advancement of our country.

The degree they receive will grant them a better opportunity to succeed in the job market and to do well in life.

However, those students who are graduating also have the opportunity to leave a campus often isolated from the larger picture of what this country is striving for.

And while all who graduate from MIT are enabled to be world leaders in science, engineering, and technology, leaders can't exist in a vacuum. They need to make sure that the rest of America has every opportunity to succeed. For if only the graduates of MIT, Princeton, or other top-level universities can do well in life - if the American community as a whole does not advance and do well together - there will be no community in which college graduates can succeed.

Clinton would also likely share his personal inspiration toward service and his dreams for a country in which everyone can have the opportunity to walk through our halls. "The older I get," he said, "and the more I become aware that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows, the more I think that in our final hours, which all of us have to face, very rarely will we say, Gosh, I wish I'd spent more time at the office,' or If only I'd just made a little more money.'"

"But we will think about the dreams we lived out," Clinton continued, "the wonders we knew when we were most fully alive. This is about giving every single, solitary soul in this country the chance to be most alive."

I am awed by those who are graduating because they now have the incredible opportunity to use their education to make the world a better place. As they walk across Killian Court today, they should consider how we as a community can advance together.