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In their own words…

Elaine Fuchs

Titled “Shapes of an Education at the University of Chicago,” the commencement address by biologist Elaine Fuchs focused on how the graduates’ education has given them the ability to sculpt their own lives.

“You are leaving behind the world that was created for you, the confines of a life which, however admirable, was not a life created in your own image, but one in which you existed,” she said. Their professors, she noted, have given the students “a taste of the nectar of scholarship and genius,” introducing them to the likes of Dickinson and Darwin, Plato and Curie.

“But the great pioneers of their fields serve only as examples, if not exemplary ones, of what is possible in life and what is the epitome of the meaning of a career,” Fuchs continued. “From these examples, each of you has begun to develop your own interests and directions, your own image of your destiny.”

Fuchs also emphasized the ongoing importance of critical thinking and asking questions. “Your education has taught you to be morally and ethically responsible,” she said, “and to bring philosophical reflection into your chosen profession, your community, and your life as a whole.”

Bill Clinton

While the bulk of President Bill Clinton’s speech focused, as planned, on the global economy, he began by commenting on Kosovo, which NATO forces were beginning to occupy that morning.

“We are determined to reverse the ethnic cleansing,” Clinton said. “We look forward to working with Russia and others who may not have agreed with our military campaign but do agree with the proposition that all the people of that tiny land—Serb and Albanian alike—should be able to live in peace and dignity.”

He cautioned students: “Even when we don’t get along, even if we fight, the innocent civilians should not be swept up en masse, as they were there.” Drawing applause, he added, “I hope you will uphold that principle when you’re in a position to make decisions.”

With a nod to the University’s reputation for free-market beliefs, Clinton then turned his attention to the question of how to “create a global economy with a human face—one that rewards work everywhere; one that gives all people a chance to improve their lot and still raise their families in dignity; and [one that] support[s] communities that are coming together, not being torn apart.”

To reach this goal, he called for keeping the U.S. “on the cutting edge of progress and change” by continuing to invest in research, including the next generation of the Internet. At the same time, he said, “We have to figure out how to build a system that is both free and fair, and not just to workers in the United States, but in other countries of the world.” To that end, Clinton proposed using “trade talks to protect the environment and the rights of workers”; working against forced labor and child labor; trading more with Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, and working to bring China into the World Trade Organization; investing in education, public health, and the environment worldwide; reducing debt for poor countries; and growing the economy while improving the environment.

In closing, Clinton said: “It will require a genuine commitment—a genuine commitment to the proposition that societies should be free, but they should be coherent; that we should always be able to balance work with family and community; and that what unites us is profoundly more important than all of our differences. I hope that that is the world of your future, the world that you will make.”

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