Letter from President Clinton
Welcome to the Clinton Presidential Center. This modern building, arching over the timeless Arkansas River, never fails to fill me with hope. The Center is first and foremost a presidential library, but it is also a museum as well as a place for people to come together to study the issues of today so that we can meet the challenges of tomorrow. If you take a single message from your visit here, I hope it is the same one that motivated the tireless and dedicated people who worked with me through eight exciting years in Washington: Public service is a noble calling, and doing the people’s business is a solemn trust.
The American presidency is a unique institution. For many of us, the President is almost as familiar as a member of the family. Every four years when we elect a President, it is as if all of America comes together and sits for a family portrait. It is a picture that tells us very much about how we see ourselves now and how we would like to see ourselves tomorrow.
It was very important to me that this Center be in Arkansas, and especially in Little Rock, where so much of my philosophy of leadership and public service took shape. My years in Arkansas were eventful ones—a time when this quiet corner of the South was thrust into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and when, as in the rest of America, the economy was transformed by technological changes that profoundly affected the daily life of every family. First as a schoolboy, then as a young man who chose to make a career of public service in my home state, and finally, through five terms as governor, my bedrock political beliefs were formed in Arkansas. It was here that I first asked myself the question that guided me through two terms in the White House and now in the work of the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton School of Public Service. It is a question—and a goal—that every representative of the people must strive to answer: “How can my actions help improve the life of the people I serve and the future of our children?”
As I reflect on this Center, I find myself thinking about how much of my life has been enriched by libraries. When Lonnie Lubben, my sophomore English teacher at Hot Springs High piled on the assignments, it was in the school library that I met Shakespeare’s characters. From his heroes, villains, and common folk I learned that every human being has a rich and complex story, if we only take the time to seek it out. In those same years, term paper research also led me into the fascinating lives and deeds of the incredibly visionary Americans who created our Constitution. As I studied the thoughts of Jefferson and Madison, Hamilton and Franklin, I learned the power and impact of ideas. I also marveled at how the founding fathers fashioned our Constitution as a framework to bring people of differing points of view together to form a more perfect union. It is a task whose completion will remain always before us.
This center bears my name, but it is yours as much as it is mine. It tells the story of our recent past so that we all may learn and move forward. In an age when mountains of information are being generated at a constantly accelerating pace, decisions of great consequence are often made more quickly. It has never been more important that we take a breath, and study how we have come to where we are, if we hope to continue to a brighter tomorrow.
I cannot explain the value of such study and reflection any better than Franklin Roosevelt did at the dedication of his library in 1944. He said, “A nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”
All that I have learned about the bridge we are building to that future is in this Center. May it help to instruct you, as it did me, and may you write the next chapters in the great story that is America.
42nd President and Founder of the Clinton Foundation