NORTHFIELD -- In his last commencement address as chief executive, President Clinton told graduates at a private liberal arts college in Northfield that he had worked very hard to prepare America for the 21st century.
''It's up to you to decide what to do with it,'' he told them.
The president had a few suggestions, however, for the 423 graduates at Carleton College, about 40 miles south of Minneapolis. He rattled off tasks he hoped they'd tackle: Help poor people reap the benefits of a prosperous economy, deal with the nation's aging population, erase racial and ethnic barriers that divide citizens and open the door wider to higher education.
''It's important, because in the world we live in, it's the only way to guarantee our founders' dream of opportunity for all -- so it's important individually,'' Clinton said, expounding on his administration's goal of making college more affordable. ''Unless we can more generally spread the benefits of education, your generation will not be able to build a future of your dreams.''
Clinton, clad in cap and gown, strode before the crowd of about 6,000 people. He threw his head back and laughed when he noticed a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself that someone waved in the audience. During his talk, he joked about how someone had painted his likeness on a water tower.
His mood, however, was dampened by the news of the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad. As he sat on the dais waiting to deliver his speech, Clinton was handed a note confirming Assad's death. He did not mention the 69-year-old president's death in his talk.
Instead, he talked about his administration's work to make higher education more accessible. And he said the students would be judged on the how they give back to their local, national and global communities.
''Our common humanity is far, far more important than all the things that divide us,'' he said.
This was Clinton's 23rd commencement address since taking office in 1993, his third this year.
His practice has been to speak at a military academy, a public college or university and a private institution each year. Over eight years he has spoken twice each at the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard academies and addressed graduates at a range of institutions, including New Hampshire Technical College (1993), Princeton University (1996) and Grambling State University in Louisiana (1999).
Clinton has already spoken this year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Clinton is the first sitting president ever to deliver a commencement address at Carleton College and the first to visit the campus since President Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned at Carleton in 1956. On his way to his helicopter, Clinton stopped to shake hands with about three dozen people gathered next to farm fields.
During his one-day Minnesota visit, Clinton also was to address a Democratic National Convention luncheon and attend a Soul Asylum rock concert and Democratic Party fund-raiser, both in Minneapolis.
On the Net: http://www.carleton.edu/commencement2000/index.html
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