One of President Bill Clinton’s last acts in office was to add Governors Island to the list of national monuments, which paved the way for the island to be returned to the people of New York. Thirteen years later, the former president came back to the island and delivered a stirring speech to students of the island’s Harbor School.
“There is no place in America that better exemplifies the world I want to leave to our children and grandchildren than this school and its partner,” said Clinton, as reported in the Daily News:
“If you pick up the paper any day, or you watch the evening news, you know all about the troubles of the world… Every place you read about troubles, it’s because people have chosen conflict over cooperation. Because people believe that what our differences are, are more important than our common humanity.”
Clinton, wearing jeans and a pair of red sneakers, was brought to the island via the Privateer, one of the school’s training boats, with an NYPD water escort. The Harbor School students welcomed him as he landed, and showed him the keystone project the kids are working on, the Billion Oyster Project. The program aims to introduce 1 billion of the bivalves into the city’s waterways over the next two decades to help filter toxins and build resilience in the ecosystem. The students, wearing orange life jackets, told the former president how the program works, then escorted him to the Harbor School. It was the first day of classes. He toured the school, sat in on a class, and looked impressed at what he saw. He later addressed the entire student body on a hill overlooking New York Harbor.
According to DNAinfo, the oyster project is a Clinton Global Initiative “commitment to action,” meaning the Clinton Foundation doesn’t donate directly, but uses the Clintons’ influence to get others to make contributions. Harbor School co-founder Murray Fisher announced the program had won a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the oyster program into as many as 60 middle schools throughout the city.
Clinton lauded the school as a unique education experiment that combines “the development of practical, useable, deeply needed skills with academic education. Every single one of you will graduate from high school with a certified ability to perform one of six maritime areas and enough academic credits to get into a four year institution.”
Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has written and edited seven books with ties to New York history, including "The Governors Island Explorer's Guide" and "World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War." Kevin is a licensed sightseeing guide and has been leading walking tours since 1999. He resides in Manhattan.