Former President Bill Clinton made an appearance at the Liacouras Center Thursday evening, April 10, and delivered a speech on range of topics focused around legal studies as part of a fundraiser lecture series for the Beasley School of Law.
Clinton was the featured speaker at the first annual guest lecture sponsored by the Temple Law Foundation. The event was designed to kick off a new series that raises money to assist needy law students by providing scholarships, loan repayment assistance and work study matching funds.
According to the Liacouras Center management’s estimate, more than 3,600 students, alumni and sponsors attended the lecture. Event tickets ranged from $40 to $100, and were free for students.
Temple President Theobald, Dean of Temple Law School JoAnne Epps and Trustee Leonard Barrack took turns to speak before President Clinton’s appearance.
Following the 40-minute speech, Clinton joined former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell for a question-and-answer session. Rendell presented Clinton with five questions that were submitted in advance by Beasly School of Law faculty and students.
Clinton started the speech by praising 14 Temple University students who have made commitments to the Clinton Global Initiative. He thanked the university for playing a part in helping the Sproxil, a venture capital-backed for-profit company that developed mobile verification system to detect counterfeit drugs.
Calling himself a once “indebted” law student, Clinton stressed the importance of supporting fundraising efforts of TLF and Temple Law Barrack Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
“We need bright young lawyers to do something in public service, to serve either while they’re making a living, or to do it full-time,“ Clinton said.
With reading glasses resting loosely forward on his nose, the former president said he loved his life in law, recalling his early years in law school while serving subpoenas as a clerk in low-income neighborhoods, teaching and eventually serving as Attorney General of Arkansas.
In staying with the theme of law and how it applied to international politics, Clinton linked the current crisis in Crimea with examples of blatant disregard of rule of law by the Russian government. He called the recent vote by the Crimean citizens to annex their region from Ukraine as Russian-led “phony referendum.”
“The truth is [President Viktor Yanukovych] was removed from office by 82 percent vote by the Ukrainian parliament, including by members of his own party for incompetence and corruption,” Clinton asserted. “The rule of law should’ve been followed because once you get in a habit of ignoring it — particularly if it’s your neighbor’s rule of law — that’s a pretty slippery slope,” he added.
The former president responded to questions asking him to reflect on his decisions in office by saying that the failed peace plan between Israeli and Palestinians was among his biggest disappointments of his presidency. The historic 2000 Camp David Summit between an Israeli leader, Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat failed without agreement after Arafat claimed that Clinton’s plan was a “trap.” Most of the criticism for the failed peace plan was leveled at the now-deceased Palestinian leader.
“It was the only time that [Arafat] ever broke his word to me. It never happened before because every time when he said he was going to do something he did it,” Clinton revealed.
During most of the 20-minute interaction, the former governor sat on the edge of the chair, as if in anticipation, as Clinton slumped fully back in seat and occasionally taking sips of water.
The former president said he also regretted not being able to pass his proposed healthcare reform in 1994 due to not enough votes. He then praised President Obama’s efforts in getting the votes needed to pass reform and making it into a law.
He quickly rebuffed his past failures by highlighting achievements of Clinton Global Initiative. He said commitments made by NGOs have so far helped improve lives of 430 million people in 180 countries.
“I never dreamed that this would happen when I first started,” he said. “I just had this sense that people were sick and tired of going to the meetings where they talked about problems and nobody was ever asked to do anything about them,” he added as the audience burst into applause.
Following the former president’s keynote address, current Temple law students had a lot to say how Clinton’s early years as law student compared to theirs now. Leanne Lane, a first year jurist doctorate candidate at Temple Law, said she already feels the pressure of school and doesn’t have time even for herself.
“First year students can understand the frustration that comes with being in another three years in school,” Lane said. “You’re trying to train for a job and it almost seems like you’re not actually training but just in this academic grind that really had no pertinence to what you actually going to be doing. Taking from what [Clinton] said tonight only makes me glad that I came to the school like Temple that really strives to teach us those practical skills,” she added.
Temple Jazz Band and Temple Gospel Ministries choir provided the entertainment and NBC 10 weekend anchor Rosemary Connors served as MC for the evening. The Emmy-winning journalist is currently a part-time student at Temple law school and will be graduating in May 2014.
Sergei Blair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.