Back in the ‘60s, a young student named Hillary Clinton was president of the Young Republicans club at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She returned to her old stomping grounds on Friday morning to deliver a commencement speech, 48 years after she gave her first one, as a student when she graduated from the all-women liberal arts school in 1969.
Of course, Clinton would go on to switch parties, which she was the first to acknowledge has not been the only change in her life in the decades since—and especially the last few months. “You may have heard that things didn’t exactly go the way I planned, but you know what, I’m doing okay,” she said with a smile at the beginning of her nearly hour-long speech, before adding that she’s had some assistance recovering from the shock of the election results with the help of her grandchildren, as well as “long walks in the woods,” “organizing [her] closets,” and, perhaps most importantly, some Chardonnay.
But between offering her comforting advice to the class of graduates—she confessed that she called her parents a month into classes to tell them she was sure she actually wasn’t smart enough to be there—Clinton, who's becoming increasingly outspoken again, let on that she’s been using her free time to stay current, too. “You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason,” she said. “Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds.”
This was not her only jab at Donald Trump, whom she later alluded to as one of the “trolls galore, online and in-person,” in years to come (by pointing out that said trolls “may even call you a nasty woman”). But much of her other criticisms of the president were much more explicit: “It’s a con; they don’t even try to hide it,” she said of Trump’s recently announced budget plan, which she also called “an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us: the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hard-working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life.”
Such a plan, Clinton continued, “undermines confidence in the government as a whole, which in turns breeds more cynicism and anger.” And the accompanying “alternative facts” that come with justifying said actions “can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” she added. “That is not hyperbole; it is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.”
If publicly comparing the Trump administration to an authoritarian regime sounds a bit far to go for Clinton, that seems to be par for the course in her commencement speeches. Her original speech as a graduate at Wellesley, which she recalled staying up all night writing and editing, reflected her classmates’s wishes for her to address their worries about America in the '60s. “We didn't trust the government, authority figures, or really anyone over 30. In large part, thanks to years of heavy casualties, and dishonest statements about Vietnam, and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home, we were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
“And 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 obstruction of justice. After firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice,” she added, drawing a parallel between President Nixon and President Trump, one that’s grown easily more pronounced since Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey last week.
Not that all that, Clinton made sure to add, means entirely bad news. “Here’s what I want you to know: we got through that tumultuous time, and once again we began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity wider and wider for Americans,” she said. “We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion.” It’s a direction she urged the students to carry on with themselves in conversations (whether “in Medium posts” or in-person) and at protests—and even in running for office, though she warned that approach is “certainly not for the faint of heart.”
To illustrate that, Clinton turned to another inspirational quote: “It's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.” This one came not from President Kennedy, but another source Clinton clearly reveres: “one of [her] favorite movies,” A League of Their Own, the 1992 film starring Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks.
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