A Clemson Degree … Finally
This spring at the May graduation ceremonies, David Beasley finally got something he had missed out on — a Clemson degree. President Clements and Board Chair Smythe McKissick presented him with an honorary doctorate of humanities in recognition of “his life’s work bridging political, religious and ethnic boundaries to champion economic development and education.”
Beasley joked that he was taking the spotlight away from his son Ross, who was graduating that day with his bachelor’s degree in political science, but as he did with the Nobel Prize, he used the occasion to share with graduates and their families that when he took the World Food Programme job four years ago, there were 80 million people at the brink of starvation, a number that had spiked to 135 million right before COVID-19. This year, he said, that number has spiked to 270 million because of the economic ripple effect of the pandemic.
He ticked off the time with his fingers: “Every 4-5 seconds, someone is dying from hunger. We don’t have to pit COVID [against] hunger. We can do both.”
He went on to recount an interview with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes when Pelley said to him, “Governor, you’ve got the greatest job on Earth — saving people.”
“I said, ‘Scott, I really do. But I’m gonna say something to you that you haven’t thought about. I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved; I go to bed weeping over the children we didn’t save. When we don’t have enough money, our teams, we have to choose which children eat, which children don’t eat. Which children live, which children die.’ I looked at Scott, ‘How would you like that job?’
“Scott looked at me in horror and said, ‘Oh my God, I never thought about it.’”
Beasley noted that at the height of COVID-19, the average net worth increase for the world’s 2,800 billionaires per day was $5.2 billion. “All I need to address the millions that are knocking on the door of famine is $5 billion,” just one day’s increase.
He started winding up, and the same evangelical rhythm snuck back into his voice: “You see, we have a cure; we have a vaccine for COVID-19 now. We have a vaccine for famine, for hunger. It’s called food. And we also have a vaccine for the world’s greatest problem of hatred and war and conflict and divide. And that vaccine is love. It’s the most powerful weapon on Earth. Love your neighbor as yourself. The ancient translation is actually ‘love your neighbor as your equal.’
“Can you imagine what would happen,” he asked, “if we started treating everyone as our equal? You would end discrimination, racism, hatred, war and conflict. Imagine what we could do with the 14-15 trillion dollars we lose because of war to put it to helping the poor and the needy.”
Beasley gave no benediction, no amen. But he did finish with one more question: “Can I count on you to dedicate your lives to helping people?”