Clintons discuss unifying country, mental health and life lessons at Vanderbilt

Clintons discuss unifying country, mental health and life lessons at Vanderbilt

The Clinton family sat, relaxed on stage Saturday morning in Nashville, answering questions from Vanderbilt University students. 

The first inquiry for former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — sometimes polarizing figures in the U.S. political landscape — was how people could “generate unity amidst adversity.” 

The Clintons, joined by daughter Chelsea in the university’s Langford Auditorium as part of Clinton Global Initiative University, each shared their opinion. 

“Your generation is so poised to exercise more influence about the decisions we make for our future,” Hillary Clinton said. “You are not as divided. You are much more inclusive. You are much more tolerant.” 

“You can help us overcome the divisiveness by, quite frankly, electing people who don’t traffic in division,” she added. 

Bill Clinton, who founded the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2007, said American citizens “hear all this stuff” and “we assume that 100 percent of the people are locked into one position or the other.” 

Clinton, president from 1993 to 2001, admitted the country “is more polarized than it has been” but hoped people would “find a way to reach people who see the world differently.” 

“What you need is to find a way to talk to people who are just out there confused by what’s going on. And, generally are decent people who want to do the right thing and don’t think of themselves as racist or sexist or homophobic or whatever,” Bill Clinton said. “But they are uncertain.” 

The Clintons were again headlining the second day of the three-day event at Vanderbilt after talking with students Friday when they were also joined by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

Overcoming, treating mental health issues

Another Vanderbilt student asked the Clintons how they believed the government could better help with mental health issues in America. 

Chelsea Clinton said young students should have more mental health help at an early age. 

“We need to do a better job of meeting kids where they are in schools,” she said. 

She said earlier support and diagnosis is critical because that help “can change the trajectory of someone’s life.” 

Bill Clinton talked about instilling a positive outlook at a young age, which he believed would help some people push through difficult times.  

“This is a big deal,” Bill Clinton said. “I am appalled by the ratio of hours that so many of our young people spend injecting things that are going to make them give up instead of feel like, ‘Wow, this is a big a– problem. I think I’ll take it on.'”

Chelsea Clinton later added that despite the family’s “various personal challenges” the three of them never struggled with serious mental health issues and she understood for some people resiliency is more difficult. 

Nelson Mandela remembered

The Clintons were also asked what’s one lesson they would teach family members generations into the future.

Bill Clinton said he would want his descendants to follow the example of Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African Black nationalist leader imprisoned nearly 20 years for leading the effort to end apartheid.

“Tell me the truth. Didn’t you really hate people who did all that to you?” Clinton asked Mandela years ago.

Mandela admitted he did for a time, Clinton said. But the former South African president realized “they could take everything, except my mind and my heart.”

“He said, ‘Those things I would have to give away. I decided not to give them away. And neither should you,'” Clinton said. “Anytime you give into an external pressure that has negative consequences, you are basically saying, here’s a piece of my mind. Here’s a piece of my heart.”

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More on the Clinton Global Initiative University

The Clinton Global Initiative University has supported more than 11,800 students in more than 160 countries with $4.5 million in funding, according to organization officials. 

The initiative’s goal is for students to commit to projects to help make communities better and then grow those projects. About 780 students from 92 countries and 42 states were scheduled to be in Nashville this weekend for the three-day event.

Examples of student projects include the following: 

  • Noah Ford, Amaris-Lynn Joubert and Induja Kumar, members of the Class of 2024, are working on a “Labs Behind Bars” project to create Vanderbilt student-designed STEM labs that can be used for continuing education in Nashville prisons.
  • Lena Khanolkar and Sunaya Krishnapura, first-year Vanderbilt School of Medicine students, are part of a “Increasing Sustainability at Vanderbilt University Medical Center” project that aims to reduce non-hazardous waste at VUMC.
  • Zara Parekh, a master’s student, whose “Professional Development for Educators in India to Serve Students with Learning Disabilities” project aims to provide coaching for educators in India to serve students with learning disabilities in Mumbai’s public schools.
  • Tommy Pennington, Kathryn Tam and Anders Westermann, members of the Class of 2025, whose “Vanderbilt Fusion Project” aims to democratize access to cutting-edge sustainable energy research by building an open-source, low-cost miniaturized nuclear fusion reactor powered by clean hydrogen and electric fields.