The final question from the audience during the opening plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) was, “If constraint inspires creativity (according to Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and session panelist), then what one word describes what drives you?”
“The one word that drives me is 99½,” answered Bill Clinton.
The 42nd president and founding chairman of the Clinton Global Initiative continued his answer by proclaiming that one of his proudest accomplishments as president was approving the $3 billion of taxpayers’ money that supported the Human Genome Project. One result of the multi-year, multi-institutional project (of which the Washington University School of Medicine played a pivotal role), he said, was finding “that all of us on planet Earth are 99½ percent the same.”
Standing on stage in the darkened Athletic Complex, under a bright spotlight, Clinton challenged the 1,200 transfixed CGI U students to spend their lives thinking of what makes us similar, not different. “If you want to build a future of shared prosperity and shared community,” Clinton said, “you can never forget that the 99½ percent has to count more with you than the half percent.”
Selected based on the merits of pre-submitted commitments, these students, including 201 from Washington University, already embody this sentiment. They traveled to WUSTL from 75 countries and all 50 states, representing some 300 colleges and universities, to hear President Clinton’s inspiring words — and to learn from other experts and one another how to turn their ideas for improving the world into actions.
The feature-packed weekend included plenary, working and skill sessions with experts and celebrities, with a bonus conversation between comedian Stephen Colbert and President Clinton; networking events, exchanges and dinners; and a service project at Gateway STEM High School in the city of St. Louis.
CGI U chose Washington University to host its sixth annual conference because of the university’s long history of civic engagement, and because of the two organizations’ overlapping mission of developing and preparing young global leaders.
“Wash. U. really embodies not only the driving ethos of CGI U — of being committed to turning intentions into actions,” Chelsea Clinton said in her opening remarks, “but also in the motivating purpose of CGI U — empowering what is too frequently called the next generation of leaders, but who really are currently the leaders we need to have in every important conversation.”