Clinton served two terms as U.S. president and has since established the William J. Clinton Foundation to address issues ranging from AIDS treatment to climate change. The former president fit the bill for the Class Day appointment, said Class Marshal Peter G. Asante Jr. '07.
"When you think of Class Day you want someone who has been influential in people's lives," said Asante. "And I think that interaction itself will generate some sort of moment in its own right."
Clinton follows a string of Class Day comedians, with five of the last seven coming from the world of comedy. The list since 2000 includes late night host Conan O'Brien '85, former "Saturday Night Live" stars Will Ferrell and Al Franken '73, "Da Ali G Show" creator Sacha Baron Cohen, and Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the popular television show "Family Guy."
Asante was not ready to concede that Bill Clinton did not fit in with the crowd of humorists, stating, "personally, I don't think that Bill Clinton is not funny."
He did, however, say that "for as long as I've been around, I thought the Class Day speakers were supposed to be funny, so when I found out that they hadn't always been funny, I thought that this was our chance to bring in somebody that means something."
Asante said that he thought the news of Clinton's selection would be generally well-received.
"We knew that whatever direction we headed in, given the information we had from the class, we wouldn't encounter much backlash from it," he said. "And I think most people will be very happy with the selection of our speaker."
Inyang M. Akpan '07, an engineering sciences concentrator, said that he was disappointed that the speaker this year would not be a comedian, but added that he did not think the decision would have a negative effect on the graduation ceremonies.
"I remember freshman year when I came in everyone I talked to loved Bill Clinton, which I thought was strange at the time because he wasn't the president then," said Akpan. "So I'm definitely glad he's coming here."
Clinton's office declined a request for comment, but a representative said that a statement would be forthcoming sometime over the next several days.
—Staff writer Christian B. Flow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org