The MSU Convocation on Friday, May 5, was one for Spartan history. It marked the appearance of President Bill Clinton, the first sitting president in 88 years to speak to an MSU graduating class. Spartan Stadium was filled by a sparkling sea of green caps and gowns worn by some 6,500 graduating students while some 50,000 parents and friends, along with federal agents and the media, filled the stands.
It was a festive mood, with the sun breaking through during the processional march. Moments later, a thunderous cheer and ovation broke out when President Clinton emerged and made his way to the stage. The MSU Wind Symphony, led by John Whitwell, played Ruffles and Flourishes and Hail To The Chief. Clinton listened attentively to an inspiring speech by Ingrid Saunders Jones, a vice president with Coca-Cola Co.
Wearing a blue robe with black stripes, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, one of five honorary doctorates presented by MSU this spring. 'Maybe I will get more respect in Washington now,' Clinton mused, adding to great applause, 'Regardless, I now know who I'm supposed to root for in the Big 10.'
In his speech, televised nationally by C-SPAN, Clinton told graduates they face 'a future of unlimited possibilities' and challenged them to face the new challenges and problems. He noted, 'You who graduate today will have the chance to live in the most exciting, the most prosperous, the most diverse and interesting world in the entire history of humanity.'
Clinton made a rousing defense of freedom of political speech and condemned the extremists who would subvert that process through violence. He also countered the negative publicity given to Michigan for having some links to an alleged conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing. 'This is the real Michigan in this stadium today,' he said. 'The real Michigan is Michigan State. It's the astonishing revival of the automobile industry . . . Real Michigan is Kellogg's corn flakes and the best cherries in the world. The real Michigan is the Great Lakes and the U.P.'
An avid college basketball fan, Clinton congratulated retiring coach Jud Heathcote and also mentioned last year's speaker, fellow Arkansan and MSU Distinguished Alumnus Ernest Green of the 'Little Rock Nine.'
Following the festivities, which included several speeches by select students, Clinton stayed on to greet students, faculty and other guests attending the convocation. It was an exciting and historic moment in MSU's Spring 1995 Commencement activities.
CLINTON ATTENDS THE PRESIDENTIAL BRUNCH
Before the Convocation in Spartan Stadium, more than 1,000 alumni and friends gathered at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building's indoor practice facility for a special Presidential Brunch. The special event was coordinated by former MSUAA executive director Chuck Webb, now vice president for university development.
President Bill Clinton stepped onto the stage to join MSU President M. Peter McPherson; Russ Mawby, chairperson of MSU's Board of Trustees; John Engler, Governor of Michigan; and Jim Blanchard, U.S. Ambassador to Canada and former Michigan Governor. All of them were Spartans, with Clinton about to become an honorary Spartan.
It was an intimate gathering that saw leaders set aside partisan differences and unite behind the university and the day's important mission. President Clinton previewed his Convocation Address and delighted the crowd by shaking hands and mingling with the guests. All in all, the event was a rousing success and probably ranks among the most memorable events in recent Spartan history.
U.S. PRESIDENTS AT MSU
Prior to President Clinton this spring, the last time a sitting U.S. President spoke at MSU's convocation was Teddy Roosevelt (back seat of REO car, with spectacles) in June 1907.
President Clinton's visit to MSU was his third. He first came September 22, 1992, for an 'empty chair' debate in the area near Beaumont Tower, then returned on October 19 for the Presidential Debate at Wharton Center along with President George Bush and Ross Perot. It was the last of three national debates.
Besides Presidents Clinton and Bush, several other U.S. Presidents have also visited the MSU campus. Three former Presidents were commencement speakers at MSU either before or after they served their presidencies--Richard Nixon in 1957, Harry S. Truman in 1960, and Gerald Ford in 1965.
In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower spoke at the MSU Auditorium--which, incidentally, was dedicated in 1940 with the presence of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.