If you’ve had your eye on the news in recent days, you saw, read, or heard Hillary Clinton’s commencement speech at Wellesley College. I tuned in through Wellesley social media, as an alumna of the college, and watched throughout the ceremony. I listened to Secretary Clinton’s speech in entirety and smiled during much of it.
My own Wellesley commencement is now many decades back. In fact, this is a reunion year for me, but ongoing struggles with injuries will keep me away, sadly. Nevertheless, what I heard as a Wellesley grad is something more far-reaching than the political messaging highlighted in the media.
I heard a warm, funny, and inspiring Hillary Clinton. And I confess I wish we had seen more of this Secretary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. That aside, I also heard a smart, fearless, fiery, thoughtful, accomplished Wellesley graduate. I heard what is very much an energizing, “get involved,” “you have a responsibility” Wellesley speech. I heard a woman addressing the values that were reinforced in a Wellesley education, and those values I will add, are something I am very much proud of, in particular, the concept of
As one now facing challenges common to my generation, currently caught in a tough and ageist job marketplace, worried about healthcare, worried about young adult children and aging parents, worried about the environment, worried about our most vulnerable communities, worried about our political institutions, worried about the future of this country and our world, worried about American values of inclusivity, and not least of all, worried about women’s rights, I was reminded of what Wellesley is about. And, I was lifted by recalling wonderful times (and trepidatious ones), by little “in” jokes and references, and by big ideas that I am happy to know are still part of a Wellesley education.
To those who say this was little more than a Clinton political speech, I say: You’re wrong. I would point you to the text in its entirety, which you may find here at the Washington Post. Political? Of course. And the Wellesley I know is political. Politics — women getting and staying involved in politics — has never been more important than it is now. I would note too the values espoused, the passages of pointed, meaningful advice, the call to service, to keeping an open mind, to personal and cultural ideals that are, to this Wellesley alum, as relevant today as they were when I lived in Stone-Davis, and when I forged lifelong friendships of my own all those decades ago.
There are many times in life when we must be reminded of the need to fight — to fight for our survival, for our family’s survival, for our principles. To fight for causes greater than ourselves. I have certainly been in need of “fighting words” for many months now, as I know that many of my peers have been as well, as we battle marginalization for numerous reasons.
I would also wish that you listen to the remarkable valedictorian speech, given by an articulate and intelligent young woman, daughter of two Syrian refugees. She spoke of our flaws, always present alongside our strengths, and lessening through the process of maturing, learning from challenges, fighting the good fight. If you can locate her speech on the web, read it. If you can find a video clip, better still.
As for Secretary Clinton, referring to her electoral defeat, I would like to highlight these lines:
… here’s what helped most of all: remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe. And that is what Wellesley means to me. This College gave me so much. It launched me on a life of service and provided friends that I still treasure. So wherever your life takes you, I hope that Wellesley serves as that kind of touchstone for you.
I have needed this reminder, these words, this mantra — more in the past several years of personal defeats and physical impediments than I can ever recall. More right now, at this time in my life, than I would have thought possible. Remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe. These are fighting words. Fighting words we may need more in our forties and fifties and sixties than any other time.
And I would say to Wellesley College, as I have over the years, thank you for being part of my cultural foundation. Thank you for the lifelong friendships to which Secretary Clinton alluded. Thank you for being a touchstone, a source of inspiration, a place of learning and strength to generations of women. Thank you for encouraging our successes, our failures, our ability to get back up after we fall, our pursuit of truth, our refusal to succumb to dogma — on any side of the political spectrum. Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for reminding us that words are powerful, that questioning is vital, and actions are the necessary follow through.
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