ROSENBERGER: An Honor for Clinton’s Collegiate Legacy
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 01:02
While Georgetown has many respected and accomplished alumni, one individual stands in a league of his own in terms of prestige and attainment. William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, captures many of the values that make Georgetown great and deserves to be celebrated with a building named in his honor.
Georgetown’s history is a complicated one in which the only reliable factor has been a lack of funds. Clinton, like this university, came from humble roots to assume a position of the highest prestige. In the early- to mid-1900s, Georgetown could count on a steady stream of America’s most talented young Catholic students to help it succeed. As Catholics assimilated into society, they choose schools seen as more prestigious, and Georgetown suffered. The school’s renaissance came when it began to attract academically gifted young people independent beyond its Catholic identity. One such person was the young Bill Clinton. Clinton, a Baptist from Arkansas, came to Georgetown to be in the nation’s capital and to participate in a vibrant academic community.
Georgetown could only benefit from having a building named in honor of its most famous graduate. Other Georgetown values, such as creating wealth, enacting social justice and — more recently — focusing keenly on physical appearance, also are embodied in Clinton.
One story that has captured the rapid change in Georgetown’s institutional culture at that time involves Clinton meeting with a Jesuit faculty member within weeks of his graduation. This member encouraged Clinton to consider the priesthood, to which the future president replied, “I will, Father, but first I will have to become a Catholic.”
Clinton’s experience mirrors that of a multitude of students who have enjoyed the Georgetown community in the years since he graduated. Many religious traditions can be practiced and celebrated here. Georgetown, uniquely among American universities, takes an active role in feeding the spiritual hunger of all of its undergraduates, irrespective of their faith backgrounds.
Clinton was an active leader at Georgetown, but he was not always a successful one. He lost races for student government, yet went on to far greater things. At Georgetown, we do not let a temporary lack of success serve as a disqualifier, nor do we take success for granted. Clinton captures the striving spirit and ambition that many Georgetown students seek to cultivate.
While Clinton is certainly deserving of a building, one wonders what that building should be. The obvious and most immediate choice is the Northeast Triangle project. While we fifth-floor Harbin residents will always be able to claim that we’ve lived on the floor once occupied by Clinton during his time as an undergraduate, countless current and future Hoyas could live in a beautiful residence hall that bears his name. Naming an enormous student housing project after Clinton is uniquely appropriate. While efforts to give the name of this building to another Jesuit or notable donor are noble, the activities of a Georgetown housing complex are entirely better suited to a Clinton moniker.
Some might claim that naming a building after Clinton is unprecedented or premature. Even as a staunch Republican, I would argue that there is no better name and no better time for it. Becoming president with a Georgetown degree was, at the time, unprecedented. Clinton helped solidify our reputation as a premier destination for future leaders, and he may have paved the way for countless more Hoyas. We should not wait for Clinton to age before honoring him in this manner. The former president has been an active presence on this campus since his time in office and would enjoy the permanent recognition of his importance to our community. For better or worse, Clinton captures the ideal of a Georgetown career. He managed to rack up astounding achievements while having a fantastic time doing it. Hoyas of the future deserve to reach toward their aspirations in a hall named for this great man.
Tim Rosenberger is a sophomore in the College. THE CHURCH AND STATESMAN appears every other Tuesday.