Forty years after he said in a campaign ad, “I will never tell a lie,” Former U.S. President and Emory University Distinguished Professor Jimmy Carter told the crowd in the WoodPEC the best piece of advice he had ever received: “Tell the truth.”
Carter took the stage in the Woodruff P.E. Center (WoodPEC) Wednesday, Sept. 14, to answer questions from a packed crowd of Emory students and guests at the 35th annual Carter Town Hall. The Nobel laureate shared his thoughts on topics including the current state of politics and discrimination against women and girls.
Students submitted questions for Carter before the event in writing or via Twitter. Carter promised to answer honestly, joking that he faced the task “with a great deal of hesitancy and trepidation.”
When asked what advice he would give to first-time voters in this year’s election — for many freshmen, this is the first presidential election in which they will be eligible to vote — Carter quipped that they should abstain, regardless of political affiliation. He called this election cycle “the worst election [season] we’ve ever seen,” saying that the country is the most divided it’s been since the Civil War, but he ultimately endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Carter criticized the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money funding political candidates, calling it one of the worst decisions ever made by the Court.
“I think we’ll see that we’ve made a lot of mistakes this year, with one of the biggest being the massive infusion of money from rich people influencing the political process,” he said.
The former president encouraged students to combat what he deems “the most serious violation on Earth”: discrimination against women. He spoke about the practice of female genital mutilation in some African countries, the prevalence of sex trafficking in Atlanta, and he said there is a lack of consequences for men who sexually assault women, particularly on college campuses.
“The reason that [these issues] are so prevailing is that most men don’t give a damn,” Carter said.
He added that he wants this year’s presidential candidates to pledge to remain honest and to protect human rights. “This election is almost completely bereft of the main commitment that I made when I ran for president, which was to tell the truth and never to mislead anybody,” Carter said.
The University distinguished professor, who joined Emory’s faculty in 1982, also advised students to take advantage of their time in college.
“You all have a right to choose the type of person you want to be, and an opportunity to assess the world around you in an unprecedented and unique way, which offers you a tremendous chance to make the world better in the future,” he said.
The audience responded to many of Carter’s comments, including his support of Clinton and women’s rights, with uproarious applause.
College freshman Tania Trejo-Mendez said she valued Carter’s advice about creating oneself as a person rather than a professional.
“One of the reasons that I chose Emory is [its] focus on well-rounded students,” Trejo-Mendez said. “[Carter] told us to stay true to ourselves and focus on what we believe in.”
Carter’s message of compassion for others also struck a chord with audience members, including college freshman Julia Byrne.
“I really find [Carter’s] sense of kindness to be hugely underrated in this loud society that we live in,” Byrne said. “I loved his idea that even if life isn’t good, you should never stop striving to make it good, especially for people other than yourself.”