May 29, 2005

Clark Addresses 2005 Graduates

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As the highlight of Convocation, Gen. Wesley Clark addressed an over-capacity crowd of graduates and their families in Barton Hall yesterday afternoon. Eliciting frequent applause, laughter and cheers of approval, Clark used personal anecdotes and quotes from the movie Forrest Gump to encourage and inspire the graduates in attendance to create their own futures by being what he called “choosers.”

Upon being asked what he wanted graduates to come away with from his speech, Clark said to The Sun, “To get out and live life, and get committed. Make things happen. Don’t be a sampler, be a chooser.”

A “sampler,” Clark explained, was an individual whose “interests are fleeting. [Samplers’] commitments are half hearted, their associations are temporary, their convictions are flexible. They don’t choose, they sample.”

“The opportunities you’re being given weren’t created by samplers. They were created by people who were committed, who were dedicated, who were inspired, who worked hard,” Clark said to the graduates. “They were created by people who chose. You can be and will be people who choose and make a difference in life. We just need you to step forward.”

A new strategy to approach the rapidly changing world was needed, and that strategy, Clark said, is the right brand of “American leadership” as President Dwight D. Eisenhower defined it: “the art of persuading the other fellow to want to do what you want them to do.”

“He didn’t say it was force, manipulation or the exercise of raw power. He said it was art,” Clark said. “We need that kind of leadership, not the bullying kind of leadership. … We need the kind of leadership that moves nations and peoples with our ideals … leadership that works to bring the world together … not to divide them.” Clark concluded his speech by discussing a parable from the book of Matthew.

“What I ask of you is to make the most of your talents and your potential and your opportunities, to dare, to risk, to dream, to become part of something larger than yourselves … Go confidently in the direction of your dream. Live the life you’ve imagined,” he said. “What I’ve found in life is that the joy comes from taking those risks. The joy comes from seeing and stepping up to the challenges.”

As Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Clark led an international force to end the ethnic violence during the Balkan wars. After his retirement, he chose to take up politics by campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee last year. Clark graduated top of his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1966. He received a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his service during the Vietnam War.

Prior to Clark’s speech, several senior class council members were given the opportunity speak to their fellow classmates.

“‘You are not here to be made. You are here to make yourselves. You are not here to hang upon a university. You are here to help build a university,'” said Stephen Blake ’05, president of the senior class council, echoing the words of Andrew Dickson White, first president of Cornell. “Today is the time to begin living our dreams. … Our elders, in their wisdom, haven’t yet found all the answers. It rapidly becomes our turn to try. My fellow Cornellians, we have been given. So too, must we give.”

The senior class gave Cornell University a check in the amount of $53,492.70 with nearly 1200 seniors participating.

In a press conference held yesterday morning, Clark expressed his views on various current events including the proposed army base closings and the presence of ROTC on campus. In particular he believed that the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy was “out-of-date and needs to be reviewed.”

“We can do better,” Clark said. He added that citizens should not use the issue as a weapon against the armed forces. “Their service is what keeps America free,” he pointed out.

Clark also briefly spoke about his views on nuclear proliferation policy, arguing that the Bush administration should have dealt with North Korea, then Iran, then Iraq because the greatest threat, he believed, came from non-state actors with nuclear weapons. Instead, he said, the Bush administration “turned its back” on the issue and decided to deal with the three countries in reverse.

Not everyone in attendance, however, fully approved of Clark as a convocation speaker. Jointly hosted by several student organizations, a demonstration was held outside the Statler Hotel. The demonstrators claimed Clark was not an accurate representation of the values of Cornell University and that a separate “convocation” was needed.

“There are two different Cornells. One runs like a corporation, and the other runs like an academic institution. Since there are two Cornells, it’s only appropriate to have two different convocations,” said Patrick Young ’06, one of the demonstrators and Redbuddies who orchestrated a sit-in at the University president’s office a few weeks ago.

Danny Pearlstein ’05, a Sun columnist, was also present at the demonstration. He called it a celebration in recognition of various student protests throughout the year. Pearlstein awarded the “Jeffrey S. Lehman Sustainability Prize” to Redbud Woods. As reported earlier this week by The Sun, Pearlstein and a fellow Redbuddy, Daisy Torres ’05, will not be allowed to receive their diplomas today at commencement pending Judicial Administrator action.

While Young believed Clark delivered a “positive speech,” he felt the America Clark spoke about was “a myth” and the Cornell he spoke about something the University “should embody” but does not.