To wild cheers at her alma mater, Clinton condemns assault on truth and reason and issues rallying cry: Dont let anyone tell you your voice doesnt matter
Taking the stage nearly 50 years ago at Wellesley, the liberal arts college famed for its activism, student body president Hillary Rodham turned to address roughly 400 of her female peers.
As the first ever student to speak at the schools commencement, or graduation ceremony, she faced a daunting task in addressing the prevailing climate of 1969. In a tumultuous period marked by the Vietnam war and social justice movements, Rodham was poised to discuss how her generation could effect change.
But in a spur-of-the-moment decision, she first took on the influential Republican senator who spoke before her. Her speech introduced the future Hillary Clinton to the national stage.
On Friday, Clinton returned to the place where it all began, six months after her defeat in the 2016 presidential election in what has similarly emerged as a watershed moment in American politics. The presidency of Donald Trump has been marked by scandals, confidence in institutions remains at a low and a steady stream of protests have drawn thousands to the streets of major cities across the country.
And Clinton was keen to draw the two eras together when she made a veiled comparison between Trump and Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after Watergate.
The Wellesley students erupted into cheers at the sight of Clinton walking with the procession in cap and gown. And upon taking her place behind the lectern, Clinton was quick to identify the parallels between the moment of her speech 48 years ago and the environment today. There remained urgent questions, she noted, about discrimination against women, people of color, religious minorities, and immigrants.
She twisted the knife in to Trump, without once mentioning the president by name, by comparing him to Nixon, who had recently won the 1968 election when Clinton made her original Wellesley speech. We were furious about the past presidential election, Clinton said, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with impeachment for his obstruction of justice.
The students relished this bold and freewheeling Clinton, who likened Trumps leadership to authoritarian rule, and warned them they were graduating amid a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.
Leaders willing to exploit fears and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I was graduating, Clinton warned. 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.
The students hung on her every word, nodding along, some through tears, and meeting Clintons indictment of the Trump era with cheers that rung of defiance.
Nearly five decades have passed since Clinton cemented, on that very same stage, her place as the face of a class dubbed as the rebels in white gloves. Clinton, although a political science major and active in student government, was not seen as a rabble-rouser.
But in 1969 she addressed her peers amid mounting tensions at the height of Vietnam, a war that was roundly unpopular among the younger Americans who filled campuses like Wellesley, then, as now, a womens college, and streets across the country with demonstrations.
Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated against the backdrop of civil rights marches, and the rise of feminism had prompted women to demand equal roles in society.
And so when Senator Edward Brooke, a moderate Republican, devoted much of his speech to discouraging protest in favor of incremental change, Clinton insisted his message be met with a rebuttal.