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Clinton to Graduates: “Set the world on fire”

President William Jefferson Clinton

As annual events that are laced with ritual, university graduation ceremonies are reassuringly and perhaps maddeningly similar. This year’s 104th commencement exercises, however, were like none before.

LMU certainly has never hosted both a former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, who gave the commencement address, and a candidate for the presidential nomination of a major political party, Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and U.S. senator. The couple came to campus to see their nephew, Tyler Clinton, receive a bachelor’s degree as a graduating senior in the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

The 42nd president, who was awarded a degree of doctor of humane letters, honoris causa, by LMU President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., described the world in which the graduates would soon take their place as one of interdependence. But Clinton offered that as descriptive only. Interdependence, as he described it, has been brought about by technological change, a globalized economy, the internet and social media. Change has produced remarkable opportunities for empowerment, he said, but also shed light on “persistent inequalities, [and] political and social inequality.”

“All interdependence means is here we are, stuck together,” Clinton explained. “We can’t get away from each other. … [L]ike it or not, for the rest of your lives what happens to you will in some measure be determined by what happens to other people, by how you react to it, how they treat you, how you treat them and what larger forces are at work in the world.”

Clinton advised the graduates that since interdependence is a fact of life in today’s world, what’s important is how one responds. “Because the world is interdependent, you can’t take a pass.”

He pointed to LMU students’ commitment to service, the university’s support for restorative justice and juvenile justice reform. The class of 2016, he said, had opportunities generations of people before them did not have the good fortune to enjoy.

“For most of human history,” he pointed out, “adults had no choice about what they did with their waking hours. … But you can ‘set the world on fire’ because of the empowerment of your education and the empowerment of your circumstances.”

Clinton’s reference to St. Ignatius’ words — “Go forth and set the world on fire” —was an homage to the official motto of the class of 2016. A part of that task, the president suggested, is to resist defining one’s relationships solely on the basis of differences and to broaden one’s sense of community — expand the definition of “us” and shrink the definition of “them,” as he described it.

“So, do well, do good,” he advised. “Have a good time doing it. And remember: It’s the journey that matters. Set the world on fire in the right way.”

If the class of 2016 was in need of examples of those setting the world on fire, they were pointed out at other moments during the ceremony. Clinton himself expressed appreciation for the work of two alumni who served in his administration: Rudy de Leon ’74, former deputy secretary of defense, and Tony Coelho ’64, former U.S. Congressman and chief sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990.

The 2016 Ignatian Award was presented to Joaquin Loustau, who majored in computer science and theology, while the Marian Award went to Nicole Powell, who majored in communication studies. The Scholar of the Year Award was given to Claire M. Andreae, a graduate in the School of Film and Television.

In addition, three faculty members were recognized for work and service. The Fritz B. Burns Award for Excellence in Teaching went to Christopher Key Chapple, who teaches in the Department of Theological Studies. Judith Royer, C.S.J., who teaches in the Department of Theatre Arts, was awarded the Rains Award for Excellence in Service. And Ben Fitzpatrick, who teaches in the Department of Mathematics, was recognized with the Rains Award for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Works.

Outgoing chair of the Board of Trustees Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead was given a degree of doctor of humane letters, honoris causa, by President Snyder in recognition of her contributions including an array of student scholarships across LMU’s academic disciplines and support for the construction of the Hannon Apartments, the Life Sciences Building and the William H. Hannon Library.