HOMECOMING

Hillary Clinton’s 2017 Wellesley speech was a dark shadow of the one she made in 1969

“You know what?” Hillary Clinton said to students at Wellesley College today (May 26). “I’m doing okay.”

Clinton returned to her all-female alma mater to deliver the school’s commencement speech—six months after losing the tumultuous 2016 US presidential election, and 48 years after she took the same stage as Wellesley’s first-ever student graduation speaker in May 1969. Today’s speech, though peppered with light-hearted references to her failed run (“I won’t lie, chardonnay helped a little”), was primarily a somber entreatment to Wellesley graduates to spend their lives battling injustice.

“In the years to come, there will be trolls galore, online and in person, telling you that you don’t have anything to contribute,” Clinton said. “Keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you to. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us that it’s often in the darkest times when you can do the most good.”

Clinton said she is “very optimistic about the future,” but also spoke at length about the dangers of fake news, partisanship, and a lack of political responsibility in the country. Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, she told students they “are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason” and that it is more imperative than ever to band together as a community and fight.

Her remarks bore no resemblance whatsoever to her contemplative, highly intellectual speech as a 21-year-old in 1969, in which she mused on the meaning of “human liberation” and the quest for an ideal social structure:

Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn’t do us anything. We’ve had lots of empathy; we’ve had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. What does it mean to hear that 13.3% of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That’s a percentage. We’re not interested in social reconstruction; it’s human reconstruction. How can we talk about percentages and trends? The complexities are not lost in our analyses, but perhaps they’re just put into what we consider a more human and eventually a more progressive perspective.

Clinton’s message to Wellesley’s 1969 graduates was to go into the world bold, inquisitive, and respectful. Today, it was a battle cry.


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