The fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting convenes Friday evening at GWU, bringing together more than 1,000 students from 80 countries and every state to discuss how each hopes to change the world. The weekend agenda includes a one-on-one session Saturday night between Clinton and talk-show host Jon Stewart. Fittingly, the session concludes Sunday in a day of service, with students repairing homes and assembling care packages for the military.
The former president created the annual gathering to provide a focal point for thousands of scattershot service projects on college campuses and to transform the more ambitious initiatives into full-fledged nonprofit ventures that can endure beyond college.
“If they come up with good ideas, there’s a chance that they’ll be picked up and slowly or rapidly grow into a national movement,” Clinton said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Community service among college students probably stands near an all-time high, although historical data are sketchy. The most recent report from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service shows that 3.1 million students volunteered 312 million hours in 2010. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 Haiti earthquake each mobilized a fresh wave of volunteerism.
High schools routinely require community service for graduation, and colleges have built ambitious service initiatives around the annual spring break and Martin Luther King Jr. Day holidays.
Students at the College of William and Mary logged a total of 333,453 service hours during the 2010-11 academic year, or about 55 hours for every student, according to a campus survey. At GWU, the share of freshmen taking service-learning courses has risen to 10 percent this year from 3 percent in 2009-10.
“I personally believe that this is a very, very good trend,” Clinton said, noting that his daughter, Chelsea, was required to perform community service at Sidwell Friends School, the prestigious Quaker campus in Northwest Washington. The younger Clinton will be at the forum this weekend.
Clinton launched the university event in 2008 as an outgrowth of his Clinton Global Initiative, an organization that assembles world leaders to attack pressing global challenges. He traveled to Tulane University in post-Katrina New Orleans for the first collegiate gathering, with subsequent meetings in Miami, San Diego and Austin. Together, the events have drawn 3,500 students from 110 countries.
Participants are chosen by application. Everyone who attends must have a Commitment to Action: a “new, specific and measurable plan” that addresses a challenge, either on campus or off.