WARRENSBURG — Energy efficiency and global interdependence were themes of a commencement address delivered Friday by former President Bill Clinton, recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Central Missouri.
He praised the university, which designed a $31.6 million energy efficiency program with the help of his William J. Clinton Foundation. The project is expected to save 31 percent on its annual energy costs and significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The former president said he has been working with a number of institutions and countries to improve energy efficiency. When the economic crisis began, he said, the university in Warrensburg was one of only two colleges to "stay the course."
"You will always look like ... the little engine that could," Clinton said. "I just think this is a wonderful, wonderful thing that has been done."
He noted he was the first president to visit the university since Harry Truman. He received the degree of doctor of humane letters during the 6 p.m. commencement ceremony in the Multipurpose Building.
About 300 students graduated, and 5,000 tickets were distributed for the ceremony.
Clinton talked about the importance of adapting the way the country consumes and produces energy. He mentioned the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an agreement among 44 countries to reduce energy emissions that was brokered by Clinton during his presidency. The bill did not pass the U.S. Senate.
"That was the only time I ever lost a bill in Congress before I ever sent it to them," he said.
He added that participating countries went on to have lower unemployment and higher rates of job growth than the U.S. Changing the way this country produces and consumes energy is the most important issue facing the country, he said.
Climate change also needs to be addressed, Clinton said, adding that global warming is a real concern.
"It's not about whether it's real," he said. "It's about what to do about it."
In solving these sorts of problems, he said people with opposing viewpoints need to listen to each other.
"We live in an interdependent world where we cannot escape from each other," he said. "If you don't think we're all in this together, we're toast."
Along with the interdependence, he mentioned that the country needs to confront issues of inequality. The average CEO makes 200 times more than the average employee, he said.
"I would like to live in a world where opportunity is equally shared ... where we celebrate our differences," Clinton said.
Graduates must define their vision for the world and determine how their degrees can be applied to achieve it.
Clinton received standing ovations before and after his speech.
UCM President Charles Ambrose said the former president represented a strong role model for students.
"He showed our graduates ... problems may seem big, but people can make a difference," he said. "They had to come an hour early, they had to stand a little longer, but they got to engage with a former president."
Kathy Baker, whose husband is on the UCM Board of Governors, said Clinton's presence was wonderful for the university.
"He gave the graduates useful advice based on fact," she said.