President Bill Clinton, Founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, and 42nd President of the United States, and first popularly acknowledged wonk to occupy the Oval Office, has been named American University’s inaugural Wonk of the Year.
American University’s Kennedy Political Union (KPU), a student organization named for the Kennedy family to acknowledge their public service, presented the award on behalf of the students to President Clinton prior to his speech, Embracing our Common Humanity, which he delivered to the AU community on Friday, January 27.
The American University Wonk of the Year Award recognizes a well-known individual who represents the embodiment of a Wonk—someone smart, passionate, focused and engaged, who uses their knowledge and influence to create meaningful change on the most important issues and challenges facing our world.
“In the end, there’s one true policy wonk—President Clinton. He’s known as the policy wonk because he’s so knowledgeable about policy and was able to use that in a variety of ways to impact the country and the world,” said Alex Kreger ’14, director of KPU.
A 1992 Baltimore Sun reference to then candidate Clinton and running mate Al Gore as a “double-wonk ticket,” cemented Clinton’s wonk status.
As the inaugural recipient, American University recognizes President Clinton for:
- Creating, through the Clinton Foundation, a network through which great minds can connect with others passionate about creating change,
- Prompting others to take on the world's toughest challenges,
- Improving the lives of more than 400 million people in 180 countries.
“When people hear the word wonk, one of the first examples they often think of is President Clinton,” said Teresa Flannery, AU’s vice president for communications. “He embodies the term—whip smart, passionate, politically engaged, and focused on using his knowledge to create meaningful change. We could not have started with a better example for our first recipient of this award.”
In 2010, American University adopted “Wonk” to show how members of the American University community apply their knowledge and passion in all areas of education and scholarship—communications, business, law, science, humanities, international service, the arts, and even policy—to have an impact on the issues they care about.
“Wonk is something that has come to symbolize what AU students are, and what we think is important,” said Kreger. “We think it’s important to become intellectually involved in something, and to use that to make a difference. Students have begun recognizing themselves as wonks.”
It may be an unusual word, but when you know something backward and forward, you’re a wonk. American University’s students, faculty and staff take great pride in claiming their wonk status—just like President Clinton.