By Courtney Such, News Editor
Former President Bill Clinton made a stop at downtown Greenville’s Peace Center last Tuesday, April 8, thanks to his longtime friend and 1954 Furman graduate Richard W. Riley. The event was a part of the numerous conferences and symposia hosted by the Riley Institute, which is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary.
“An Evening with Bill Clinton” has been on the Riley Institute’s calendar for about three months, but the coordinating and fundraising has been going on for about a year and a half according to Vice President of Development Mike Gatchell.
Clinton came forth and embraced Riley with a hug that made the Greenville audience roar with excitement. The Former President was given free range to speak on whatever he wanted to at the event. While Clinton discussed several topics of importance such as education standards and bipartisan cooperation, a major portion of the evening was spent honoring the work Riley has done for Furman, Greenville, South Carolina, and the United States.
“We need to teach people of their differences and then find the common thread,” Clinton said.
Clinton referred to Riley’s personality throughout the entire 50-minute speech to exemplify what cooperation looks like among the parties in Washington.
“His instinctive and intuitive understanding of human possibility and what would work always took my breath away, and I was thrilled when he served as Secretary of Education for me. I was thrilled when Time Magazine recognized him for his performance,” Clinton said.
Clinton was preceded by Furman University Interim President Carl Korht, whose speech introduced Riley and all of his accomplishments. Riley then introduced and set the scene for Clinton, recalling past stories of working together in the White House and their early political years.
“Clinton was so successful because he worked collaboratively and efficiently with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, always keeping his focus on the welfare of the people of this great democracy,” Riley said.
Richard “Dick” Riley, a Greenville native, went on from Furman to serve in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1963-66 and the South Carolina Senate from 1967-78, and was Governor of South Carolina from 1979-87 and U.S. Secretary of Education alongside of President Clinton from 1993-2001. The press release for the event stated that Riley and Clinton were able to create programs to raise national academic standards, ensure education for people of every economic status, and adjust loan and grant programs for college tuition.
Riley continues to serve as an education ambassador within America and internationally. He serves as co-chair on the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and is a member of the Board of Trustees at Furman. His list of accomplishments and acknowledgements continue since he was recognized in Time as one of the nation’s top ten best cabinet members in American history in 2009. In 2010, Riley was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame and received South Carolina’s Leadership Award.
“The development office has been working with the Riley Institute to raise and endow money, and at some point in the process we thought we could bring President Clinton in because of his friendship with Secretary Riley to both lure in major donors and to the event itself,” Gatchell said. “Once we determined it could happen and the date was set, we teamed together to set up all the receptions.”
The Riley Institute is an organization created to bring students’ attention to topics and issues in public policy. The numerous programs it includes has built it into a “unique Institute in the emphasis it places on engaging students in the various arenas of politics, public policy, and public leadership,” according to its website.
The Khorts, future Furman President Elizabeth Davis, and other members of the Furman community attended the event, and they each had a different perspective of excitement for the evening.
“Particularly putting Furman’s name into the Greenville Community is huge,” SGA Student Body President Brian Boda said. “The Riley Institute gives so much to Furman, but this, incorporating Riley’s accomplishments into bringing Clinton here, is going to make it a really cool night.”
Davis was also excited to hear Clinton speak, as well as to have another opportunity to meet members of the Furman community.
“I’m thrilled we get to celebrate the Riley Institute and the connections he has made because of his great service to the state and country.”
“It’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say, but I guess what is appealing and most compelling to me is that presidents make their marks in different ways, and so we should honor and cherish what they’ve done,” Davis said in anticipation of her presidency, which begins July 1.
Clinton ended on an optimistic note, stating his hope of collecting more donations for the institute to provide more education for the years to come.
“We need to be creative through cooperation, not stubborn with conflict, and that is what the Riley Institute is a testament to, and I am grateful to all of you who support it,” Clinton said.