The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee returned to her alma mater 48 years after delivering the college’s first student commencement speech, which would help launch her into the national spotlight.
“I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be this year than right here,” Clinton said during the school’s 139th commencement ceremony. “You may have heard that things didn’t exactly go the way I planned, but you know what? I’m doing OK.”
Clinton encouraged graduates to continue to “break glass ceilings” and defy sexism in politics, a message easily embraced by the small liberal arts college for women some 20 miles west of Boston.
“Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter,” Clinton said. “In the years to come, there will be trolls galore ― online and in person ― eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute.”
“They may even call you a nasty woman,” she added. “Doors that once seemed sealed to women are now open. They’re ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice and freedom.”
Clinton didn’t shy away from addressing the country’s current heated political climate, comparing Trump to former President Richard Nixon and warning against further polarization.
“By the way, we were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for his obstruction of justice,” Clinton said, referring to her graduating class of 1969. (The House Judiciary Committee had approved articles of impeachment against Nixon, but he actually resigned before the full House could vote on them.)
“We got through that tumultuous time,” Clinton said. “We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. ... The ‘we’ who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course, it was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched and organized.”
Clinton also decried the Trump administration’s budget proposal, calling it “an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us.”
When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.Hillary Clinton
“You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason,” Clinton said. “Just log on to social media for 10 seconds, it will hit you right in the face.”
“Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes ― like the size of crowds,” she added, taking a jab at Trump’s obsession with his inauguration attendance. “And then defending themselves by talking about ‘alternative facts.’”
“When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” she said. “That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality.”
Clinton ended her address by imploring the audience to stand up for free speech and human rights by registering to vote, marching in protests, running for office and promoting plurality.
“We’re going to share this future ― better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists,” Clinton said. “Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day.”
Clinton first came to national attention as a student at Wellesley College in 1969, when her peers selected her to deliver the school’s first-ever student commencement speech. In her address, the student body president said that although those of her generation weren’t yet in positions of power, they had “that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest.”
Her comments were a direct rebuke of the speech that Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) had delivered right before she took the stage, in which he had argued against the effectiveness of protest. Clinton made The New York Times, The Washington Post and Life magazine. She began to get noticed, speaking around the country.
Clinton only recently emerged from the sidelines after her defeat in the 2016 presidential election. She mentioned her absence from the public eye Friday, joking that she recovered from the loss by taking long walks in the woods and organizing her closets.
“I won’t lie ― chardonnay helped a little, too,” she said, prompting the crowd to roar with applause.
Language has been added to clarify that while Richard Nixon was driven out of office by the Watergate scandal, he was not formally impeached. The House Judiciary Committee had approved articles of impeachment against him, but he chose to resign before the full House could vote on them.