“President Clinton, it’s so great to meet you!”
I was caught by surprise last Friday as the 42nd President of the United States suddenly emerged out of the corner of my eye, reaching out to shake my hand as the Director of the Clinton Global Initiative International Lisa Rickert offered an introduction. On March 21st SAP sent me to Arizona State University (ASU) to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), which launched in 2007 as a platform to inspire up-and-coming leaders to make a positive impact.
My 60 seconds with President Clinton only marked the first minute of an inspiring weekend to come as an SAP representative tasked to gather millennial insight and give an opinion on the forum, as a recent college graduate and former organizer and attendee of similar events. So what did I think?
After the whirlwind of a weekend and some hard thinking, my conclusion is that CGI U rings up straight A’s, and not just because President Clinton consented to an iPhoto-op. Here’s the breakdown, with some highlight moments and favorite takeaways:
1. Students: A+
First and foremost, CGI U revolves around its student attendees, all of whom are leaders and/or founders of various organizations. The students make commitments and turn them into actions; this was the first time I had witnessed a commitment model at a conference. Three students I met and found particularly inspiring were:
- Sheila Chukwulozie, originally from Nigeria and a freshman at Amherst College, is a member of the African Leadership Academy and founder of EmoART, which empowers girls across Africa by combating pervasive gender stereotypes through art;
- Jayson Marwaha, a senior at Brown headed to Brown Med School this fall, started out as a student of a tech-focused high school in Virginia before starting up MED International, an enterprise software company for hospitals in emerging markets. (Watch out, SAP!);
- Alexandra Karr, a second year student at ASU’s Honors College studies nutrition and has high hopes to help alleviate American youth health crises such as childhood obesity. She may not be a founder, but I think waking up at 7am each day of CGI U to volunteer shows gumption.
These fabulous three were fairly representative of the 30+ students I met, and the fact that 1,100 of these students from 86 countries were running around campus that weekend blew my mind. At times I caught myself trying to remember how I had spent my four years of college.
2. Speakers: A-
Up-front, the sole reason for the slight markdown has to do with students commenting that while the speakers were top-notch, more opportunities for interaction would have made the event even better. Overall CGI U’s 2014 theme was Participation. Apart from the Clintons, who were inevitable crowd favorites, three of my favorite speakers offered some share-worthy advice:
- If you tear down walls, you create possibility for collaboration. Ashoka’s Bill Drayton urged students during a panel on “Scaling What Works” to share and create synergy.
- Your commitment isn’t just this moment. Your commitment is a lifetime. The MasterCard Foundation’s Reeta Roy was one of the most tweeted during the event for guiding students towards longer-term action.
- How did this happen? How did you become the Clinton family? In a sit-down with the Clintons, Jimmy Kimmel asked the question on everyone’s mind: how did the super-family start? Apparently, it depends on whom you ask.
3. Campus: A
With an expansive and well-landscaped campus complete with a new Honors College, fast-growing entrepreneurship program, and mind-boggling 85,000 students, ASU is essentially a city of its own. I wouldn’t be surprised if as early as next week we began to see signs of ASU preparing to run the world.
Ultimately, it was a weekend to go down in the books, and for that I have Lisa, CGI, and of course my SAP family to thank for the opportunity. As for what it was like meeting President Clinton, which has remained my most frequently asked question post-CGI U thanks to Facebook and Instagram, the experience was humbling. Many attendees, myself included, were surprised to learn that one of the world’s most powerful leaders grew up in a home with outhouses for bathrooms and lost his high school elections. As for his renowned charisma, President Clinton had enough to fill two ASU-sized campuses.
In case you’re at all feeling inclined to cry “grade inflation” given these high marks, well, all I can say in rebuttal is that you should check out CGI U 2014’s full agenda and streaming video – let me know what you think with a tweet to @apolack!