The way Oklahoma City handled adversity after April 19, 1995, was a ripple in an ocean of hope said former President Bill Clinton, Wednesday night at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Accepting the National Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation's Reflections of Hope Award, Clinton took time to reflect on the strength Oklahomans showed in the face of adversity.
"Did you see how ugly (the Survivor Tree) was? "¦ I almost didn't recognize the tree; I thought the tree had plastic surgery. I have reached the age where every living thing I had has had plastic surgery," he said.
Starting his acceptance speech with a few jokes, Clinton said he was being so lighthearted to get through it without being too emotional.
"I have been thinking a lot about Oklahoma City lately," he said. "Oklahoma City changed me, but I'm one in millions changed by Oklahoma City."
Before arriving at the dinner, Clinton made an impromptu visit to the memorial grounds to lay a bouquet of red roses on the chair of Alan Whicher, a former Secret Service agent on Clinton's personal detail before relocating to Oklahoma City with his family. As he took a moment of silence for Whicher, onlookers waited to approach Clinton, who later shook hands and took pictures with 40 people.
Looking back at the tension and turmoil of the time leading up to the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing, Clinton said the leadership of Oklahoma should be commended for working with both parties to ensure the best was being done.
Oklahoma City reminded the world on how to respond to tragedy and changed the world with how to respond to it, he said.
With Oklahoma's response in mind, Clinton used that experience to help the world with each new tragedy, such as the genocides in Rwanda and Albania, and the recent earthquake in Haiti.
Clinton is the sixth recipient of the award, given to an individual or organization whose conduct exemplifies in an extraordinary fashion two core beliefs, said John Richels, Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation chair: that hope can survive and blossom despite tragedy and chaos of political violence, and that peaceful, nonviolence approaches provide the best answers to human problems.
While happy to be back in Oklahoma City, Clinton still wishes April 19, 1995, was just a normal day.
Speaking to University of Central Oklahoma students 14 years ago, Clinton told them he was afraid the threat of terrorism would become the new threat of nuclear war, what his generation feared.
"The world is too interdependent; we can not kill, jail or occupy every actual and potential adversary we have," he said. "We have to try, mind you. The harder we try, the better we do. In the end, people who live in every neighborhood in the world have to win the battle of the heart and the mind."