MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Former President Bill Clinton said he experienced two "big thrills" at West Virginia University on Sunday -- earning an honorary doctorate degree and meeting Da'Sean Butler, the Mountaineer basketball forward headed to the NBA Draft.
"I cheered for you in the NCAA basketball tournament after I lost my Georgetown team," Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,200 graduates of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at the WVU Coliseum.
The 42nd president of the United States served as Eberly's keynote speaker at WVU's 141st commencement ceremony, marking the first time a current or former U.S. president spoke at a university commencement.
Just across the street Sunday afternoon at the Creative Arts Center, Mountaineer hoops legend, NBA Hall of Famer and Chelyan native Jerry West, dished out a keynote speech for graduates of the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.
Clinton, 63, peppered the Coliseum crowd with fond memories of the Mountain State, including celebrating a Mother's Day in Grafton, birthplace of the holiday.
"I love West Virginia," he said, followed by applause. "When I first came here, when many of you graduates were not even in kindergarten, I was running for president in 1992."
Clinton noted a striking parallel between West Virginia and his home state of Arkansas. At the time, U.S. Census figures showed that the two states retained the highest population of people born there.
"It says something about how people who live here love this place, care about its roots and traditions," Clinton continued.
Former Student Government Association president Jason Parsons was largely instrumental in bringing Clinton to WVU. Parsons, a political science major from Seth, participates in the former president's organization, Clinton Global Initiative University. The initiative is a nonpartisan organization that urges global leaders, students and organizations to solve the world's most pressing problems.
Speaking before Clinton, Parsons said the former president was a perfect choice for keynote speaker and a prime example for the new graduates seeking greener pastures. After exiting the presidency, Clinton could have gone home, relaxed and played golf, but he didn't do that, Parsons said.
Instead, he continued working to help the world, evident by his efforts with tsunami and hurricane relief, Parsons added.
"Regardless of politics and where we come from, in our lifetime I truly believe we will be hard pressed to find a president or former president who has given more to that wood pile, done more to advance freedom and prosperity and hope than William Jefferson Clinton," he said.
Clinton said he and Parsons first became friends in 2008 during the campaign season.
Sporting a purple tie under his graduation gown, Clinton told the graduates he would "give anything to be your age and run it all through again in this era."