Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College on Friday. Her speech marked the third time she’s spoken at her alma mater’s commencement and came 48 years after she did so for the first time at her own graduation. The former first lady, U.S. senator, and Democratic presidential nominee never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but the president’s unspoken presence was impossible to miss in remarks that were funny, impassioned, and—fitting the occasion—exceedingly optimistic.
Clinton drew the loudest cheers from the assembled students when she delivered a history lesson on where things stood in the United States back when she addressed her own class at its graduation in 1969, the same year Richard Nixon was sworn in as president. The similarities to the present did not go unnoticed by the crowd:
I stayed up all night with my friends … writing and editing the speech. By the time we gathered in the academic quad, I was exhausted. My hair was a wreck. The mortarboard made it even worse. But I was pretty oblivious to all of that, because what my friends had asked me to do was to talk about our worries, and about our ability and responsibility to do something about them. We didn’t trust 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. 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.
You can watch the full address above (Clinton’s speech starts at around the 51-minute mark), but a few other highlights:
I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be this year than right here. You may have heard that things didn’t exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I’m doing OK. I’ve gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won’t lie: Chardonnay helped a little too.
“A full-fledged assault on truth”
You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on to social media for ten seconds. It will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracies theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors. Drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor. Turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes. Like the size of crowds. And then defending themselves by talking about, quote-unquote, alternative facts.
“An attack of unimaginable cruelty”
Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is 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. It grossly underfunds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it was shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it. Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this college, was founded on the principles of the enlightenment. In particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking. And that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy.
“Don’t let anyone tell you …”
Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter. 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. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of teach with real people. In other words, sit down and shut up. Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate.
This isn’t the first time Clinton has taken a post-election swing at Trump. It’s a safe bet it won’t be the last.