William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and the Clinton School of Public Service

By Jasmine Medley, Judicial Education Specialist, Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts

Little Rock is well known for many notable events, places, things to do and even people. On August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas, a man who would grow up one day to be become the forty-second president of the United States of America was born. William Jefferson Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and went on to study at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Clinton graduated from Georgetown with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Foreign Service. After graduation, Clinton received the distinction of being a Rhodes Scholar and was able to study at University College at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. After studying at Oxford, Clinton enrolled at the Yale University School of Law and earned a juris doctor in 1973.

Clinton’s political career began early. He was a part of Vietnam War protesting in college, he worked for Arkansas senator William Fulbright, for whom Fulbright Scholarships are named, and he worked in the office of Dallas, Texas, mayor Ron Kirk. Clinton also worked on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. In 1975, Clinton returned to Arkansas to become a law professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law. By this time, Clinton had met and only recently married an Illinois native Hillary Rodham. In 1974, Clinton was defeated in a House of Representatives election by the incumbent and two years after that Bill Clinton was elected the attorney general of Arkansas. In 1978, at age 32, Clinton became one of the youngest governors in history (www.biography.com).

When it came to re-election, then-Governor Clinton lost the race to Frank White. This was likely due to political inexperience and youth. After Governor White’s one term, Governor Clinton was re-elected for another four consecutive terms (www.biography.com). As governor of Arkansas, Clinton showed his status as a rising star in politics. He led the state as a centrist governor and appealed to the needs and wants of both ends of the spectrum. There were some tax and fee increases as well as a push for affirmative action in Arkansas. He also served as the chairman of the National Governors’ Association.

In 1992, the young governor was not thought to be a front-runner for the United States presidency, but the nation was surprised when Governor Clinton became President Clinton. President Clinton’s administration is marked by the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine, the ratification of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and even some notably less positive events like the humanitarian failure in Somalia and the domestic scandals the President faced.

Even with the blemishes on his presidency, Bill Clinton made a name for himself as an esteemed humanitarian and world leader. The William J. Clinton Foundation was formed in 2003 to see that those in need around the world could be helped and that charitable action could be taken for those who needed it. At the end of President Clinton’s second term as president, he decided that he wanted to make a “measurable difference” in areas he cared about (www.clintonfoundation.org).

In 2004, the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park opened to the public in an area of downtown Little Rock that was previously littered with old and unused warehouses. In the library, there are permanent exhibits that give highlights of President Clinton’s eight-year administration, gifts the Clinton family received from their many travels abroad, plus other exhibits that change throughout the year (www.clintonpresidentialcenter.org). In conjunction with the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center was the inauguration of the Clinton School of Public Service, part of the University of Arkansas education system. The school is the first of its kind and the only in the country to offer a Master of Public Service degree, modeled on President Clinton’s philosophy and work to grow humanitarian efforts around the world (www.clintonschool.uasys.edu).