Bill Clinton Delivers Surprise Speech at George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards Gala

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Bill Clinton

Like former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Clinton served as an honorary chair for the gala, which was held at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

Points of Light — the non-profit named after the "thousand points of light" phrase former president George H.W. Bush first invoked at the 1988 Republican National Convention and continued to use throughout his time in office — held its inaugural awards gala on Thursday night, with various members of the Bush family and former president Bill Clinton in attendance.

Clinton delivered a lengthy speech in remembrance of Bush, sharing stories of the friendship the two developed later in life. He reiterated throughout the speech that he and Bush were able to transcend politics, though reaching across the aisle “is considered bad politics.”

"Most people down deep inside know that nobody’s right all the time; nobody’s wrong all the time," Clinton said, noting the "exceeding partisanship" he sees today. "And people are basically good. And every now and then, I’ve met somebody who made it in politics that wasn’t. … But most people who make it to the top, in any endeavor, are smart, honest, hardworking and well-motivated. I wish more people believed that today."

Clinton didn’t name-drop the current president, though he did continue to subtly reference the political climate — at one point saying that "we've been through a spell here where everybody’s full of resentment, anger and suspicion." He also explained what Points of Light meant to him, recalling a meeting between him and Bush before he took over the Oval Office. 

"It’s customary, if the president has something that he — so far — one day, I hope soon, she wants and believes in, you ask your successor not to axe. And he asked me for one thing only, to please save the Points of Light program," Clinton continued. "And when we had a budget meeting in which I was cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in spending because the deficit was so big, we doubled Points of Lights funding. Because, first of all, I knew how much it meant to him. Second, I respected him. And third, I believed that unleashing the power of individual passion and people working together is an irresistible force."

The rest of the gala was dedicated to this year's honorees: Garth Brooks, and activists Maria Rose Belding and Khloe Thompson.

Brooks, who's co-founded the Teammates for Kids Foundation and worked with Habitat for Humanity for more than a decade, received the caring and compassion award.

"In this business, you know so many people more deserving of this than you are, so you're humbled," he told The Hollywood Reporter, also praising Belding and Thompson since "they're the actual boots on the ground. They're in the trenches. I'm the guy who happens to be a part of a team, and everybody else on the team works a lot harder than me."

During his acceptance speech, Brooks invoked the wisdom of Bono and Shawshank Redemption — particularly Andy Dufresne's line, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

"Whether we're male or female; black or white; straight, gay; whatever religion; when you strip all that away, what you've got is this little point of light," Brooks said. "You decide, every day, to turn that light on. ... No matter what crap you're going through, your day's gonna be a better day because of it."