An audience filled Northrop Auditorium on Monday night to watch former President Bill Clinton deliver a speech and accept the Dean’s Award for Public Leadership from Humphrey School of Public Affairs Dean Eric Schwartz.
Clinton was the second high-profile politician to visit campus this year, following former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s April speech, which leaders say helps increase the Humphrey School’s visibility. However, some credit Clinton’s award to his close political past with Schwartz.
In his speech, Clinton commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and lauded former Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s legacy as one of the historic bill’s main backers, citing him as a primary inspiration for his own political and civil rights work.
Clinton said Humphrey’s legacy of cooperation has become increasingly rare in politics.
“[Partisanship] has given rise to the notion that we should hang with our own crowd and that our differences matter more that our common humanity,” he said. “Everything about Hubert Humphrey’s life was designed to disprove that.”
Schwartz said he feels that Clinton embodies that same spirit.
“I think Hubert Humphrey would be smiling very broadly about this visit by President Clinton,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who has worked closely with Clinton over the years, served on the National Security Council from 1993 to 2001 and later worked with the former president and the U.N.’s Special Envoy for tsunami relief.
Schwartz said he’s seen Clinton’s commitment to tackling crucial human rights issues up close.
“Both his political allies and political adversaries have recognized his important efforts to reach across the political divide,” Schwartz said.
Clinton’s appearance is an example of how Schwartz has been able to leverage his former political relationships to shine a spotlight on the Humphrey School, said Larry Jacobs, director for the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, which co-sponsored the event.
“Schwartz is a major figure in Washington,” Jacobs said. “The fact that Clinton came here is impressive and just one way that the dean has helped the school.”
Along with Rice’s visit to Northrop Auditorium, Jacobs said, Clinton’s visit this week is helping to distinguish the Humphrey School as “one of the leading national centers for policy debates.”
“It sets the stage for important and divergent ideas,” he said.
While this week’s event drew less opposition than Rice’s visit, some voiced concern over Clinton’s award.
“I don’t think he was the best choice,” said Chuck Turchick, a continuing education student. “He was picked because Dean Eric Schwartz worked in his administration.”
The former president’s expenses were covered, but he will not receive a speaking fee, while Rice received $150,000 from the Carlson Family Foundation when she spoke at Northrop.
Money raised from the event’s $50 tickets will go to support scholarships that focus on diversity and inclusion within the Humphrey School, Schwartz said.