Hillary Clinton: “Above all, keep going”

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate (and popular vote winner!) Hillary Clinton spoke at the 2017 Wellesley College graduation ceremony. In her address, she exhorts the graduating class – and all of us – to engage and be active, to dream big and “above all, keep going”.

(Secretary Clinton is introduced at about 50 minutes in by Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson)

Hillary Clinton:

Here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time [of the 60s and 70s], and once again began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of innovation and imagination. We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. The “we” who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course. It was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched, and organized. […]

You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. […]

I believe with all my heart that the future of America—indeed, the future of the world—depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity, right now, every day. You didn’t create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them. […]

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 touch 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. […]

Not long ago, I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out. And, like a lot of people, they’re wondering: What do we do now?

Well I think there’s only one answer, to keep going. Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger – those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private — in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods. And do it in public—in Medium posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day. […]

The day after the election, I did want to speak particularly to women and girls everywhere, especially young women, because you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that. We need your smarts, of course, but we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness. And remember, you are even more powerful because you have so many people supporting you, cheering you on, standing with you through good times and bad.

Our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is, that’s not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village.

[Over the last 48 years], doors that once seemed sealed to women are now opened. They’re ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.

So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you so. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it’s often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try, fail, try again, and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.

I’m very optimistic about the future, because I think, after we’ve tried a lot of other things, we get back to the business of America. I believe in you. With all my heart, I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great.

Transcript via Time:

Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you very much for that warm welcome. I am so grateful to be here back at Wellesley, especially for President Johnson’s very first Commencement, and to thank her, the trustees, families and friends, faculty, staff, and guests for understanding and perpetuating the importance of this college: what it stands for, what it has meant, and what it will do in the years ahead. And most importantly, it’s wonderful to be here with another green class to say, congratulations to the class of 2017!

Now I have some of my dear friends here from my class, a green class of 1969. And I assume, or at least you can tell me later, unlike us, you actually have a class cheer. 1969 Wellesley. [shakes head] Yet another year with no class cheer. But it is such an honor to join with the College and all who have come to celebrate this day with you, and to recognize the amazing futures that await you.

You know, four years ago, maybe a little more or a little less for some of you— I told the trustees I was sitting with, after hearing Tala’s speech, I didn’t think I could get through it. So we’ll blame allergy instead of emotion. But you know, you arrived at this campus. You arrived from all over. You joined students from 49 states and 58 countries. Now maybe you felt like you belonged right away. I doubt it. But maybe some of you did and you never wavered.

But maybe you changed your major three times and your hairstyle twice that many. Or maybe, after your first month of classes, you made a frantic collect call (ask your parents what that was) back to Illinois to tell your mother and father you weren’t smart enough to be here. My father said, “Okay, come home.” My mother said, “You have to stick it out.” That’s what happened to me.

But whatever your path, you dreamed big. You probably, in true Wellesley fashion, planned your academic and extracurricular schedule right down to the minute. So this day that you’ve been waiting for—and maybe dreading a little—is finally here.

As President Johnson said, I spoke at my Commencement 48 years ago. I came back 25 years ago to speak at another Commencement. I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be this year than right here.

Now, you may have heard that things didn’t exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I’m doing okay. 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.

But 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.

Now if any of you are nervous about what you’ll be walking into when you leave the campus, I know that feeling. I do remember my Commencement. I’d been asked by my classmates to speak. I stayed up all night with my friends, the third floor of Davis, writing and editing my speech. By the time we gathered in the Academic Quad, I was exhausted. My hair was a wreck. The mortarboard made it 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 official 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.

But here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time, and once again began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of innovation and imagination. We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. The “we” who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course. It was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched, and organized.

Now, of course today has some important differences. The advance of technology, the impact of the internet, our fragmented media landscape, make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers. We can shut out contrary voices, avoid ever questioning our basic assumptions. Extreme views are given powerful microphones. Leaders willing to exploit fear and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I graduated.

And here’s what that means to you, the Class of 2017. 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 conspiracy 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.”

But this is serious business. 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 under-funds 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 is 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. Not only Wellesley, but the entire American university system—the envy of the world—was founded on those fundamental ideals. We should not abandon them; we should revere them. We should aspire to them every single day, in everything we do.

And there’s something else. As the history majors among you here today know all too well, 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. That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality—not just our laws and rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.

Right now, some of you might wonder, well why am I telling you all this? You don’t own a cable news network. You don’t control the Facebook algorithm. You aren’t a member of Congress—yet. Because I believe with all my heart that the future of America—indeed, the future of the world—depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity, right now, every day. You didn’t create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them.

Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright, first President of the Czech Republic, wrote an essay called “The Power of the Powerless.” And in it, he said: “The moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, ‘The emperor is naked!’—when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game—everything suddenly appears in another light.”

What he’s telling us is if you feel powerless, don’t. 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 touch 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.

And here’s the good news. What you’ve learned these four years is precisely what you need to face the challenges of this moment. First, you learned critical thinking. I can still remember the professors who challenged me to make decisions with good information, rigorous reasoning, real deliberation. I know we didn’t have much of that in this past election, but we have to get back to it. After all, in the words of my predecessor in the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

And your education gives you more than knowledge. It gives you the power to keep learning and apply what you know to improve your life and the lives of others. Because you are beginning your careers with one of the best educations in the world, I think you do have a special responsibility to give others the chance to learn and think for themselves, and to learn from them, so that we can have the kind of open, fact-based debate necessary for our democracy to survive and flourish. And along the way, you may be convinced to change your mind from time to time. You know what? That’s okay. Take it from me, the former president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.

Second, you learned the value of an open mind and an open society. At their best, our colleges and universities are free market places of ideas, embracing a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. That’s our country at our best, too. An open, inclusive, diverse society is the opposite of and antidote to a closed society, where there is only one right way to think, believe, and act. Here at Wellesley, you’ve worked hard to turn this ideal into a reality. You’ve spoken out against racism and sexism and xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds. And you’ve shared your own stories. And at times that’s taken courage. But the only way our society will ever become a place where everyone truly belongs is if all of us speak openly and honestly about who we are, what we’re going through. So keep doing that.

And let me add that your learning, listening, and serving should include people who don’t agree with you politically. A lot of our fellow Americans have lost faith in the existing economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of our country.

Many feel left behind, left out, looked down on. Their anger and alienation has proved a fertile ground for false promises and false information. Their economic problems and cultural anxiety must be addressed, or they will continue to sign up to be foot-soldiers in the ongoing conflict between “us” and “them.”

The opportunity is here. Millions of people will be hurt by the policies, including this budget that is being considered. And many of these same people don’t want DREAMers deported their health care taken away. Many don’t want to retreat on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. So if your outreach is rebuffed, keep trying. Do the right thing anyway. We’re going to share this future. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.

And third, here at Wellesley, you learned the power of service. Because while free and fierce conversations in classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls are vital, they only get us so far. You have to turn those ideas and those values into action. This College has always understood that. The motto which you’ve heard twice already, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister” is as true today as it ever was. If you think about it, it’s kind of an old-fashioned rendering of President Kennedy’s great statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Not long ago, I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out. And, like a lot of people, they’re wondering: What do we do now?

Well I think there’s only one answer, to keep going. Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger – those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private – in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods. And do it in public—in Medium posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day.

So wherever you wind up next, the minute you get there, register to vote, and while you’re at it, encourage others to do so. And then vote in every election, not just the presidential ones. Bring others to vote. Fight every effort to restrict the right of law-abiding citizens to be able to vote as well. Get involved in a cause that matters to you. Pick one, start somewhere. You don’t have to do everything, but don’t sit on the sidelines. And you know what? Get to know your elected officials. If you disagree with them, ask questions. Challenge them. Better yet, run for office yourself some day. Now that’s not for everybody, I know. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it. As they say in one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”

As Tala said, the day after the election, I did want to speak particularly to women and girls everywhere, especially young women, because you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that. We need your smarts, of course, but we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness. And remember, you are even more powerful because you have so many people supporting you, cheering you on, standing with you through good times and bad.

Our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is, that’s not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village. And you build that village by investing love and time into your relationships. And in those moments for whatever reason when it might feel bleak, think back to this place where women have the freedom to take risks, make mistakes, even fail in front of each other. Channel the strength of your Wellesley classmates and experiences. I guarantee you it’ll help you stand up a little straighter, feel a little braver, knowing that the things you joked about and even took for granted can be your secret weapons for your future.

One of the things that gave me the most hope and joy after the election, when I really needed it, was meeting so many young people who told me that my defeat had not defeated them. And I’m going to devote a lot of my future to helping you make your mark in the world. I created a new organization called Onward Together to help recruit and train future leaders, and organize for real and lasting change. The work never ends.

When I graduated and made that speech, I did say, and some of you might have pictures from that day with this on it, “The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.” That was true then. It’s truer today. I never could have imagined where I would have been 48 years later—certainly never that I would have run for the Presidency of the United States or seen progress for women in all walks of life over the course of my lifetime. And yes, put millions of more cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling.

Because just in those years, doors that once seemed sealed to women are now opened. They’re ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.

So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you so. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it’s often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try, fail, try again, and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.

I’m very optimistic about the future, because I think, after we’ve tried a lot of other things, we get back to the business of America. I believe in you. With all my heart, I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great. But first, graduate.

Congratulations!

  11 comments for “Hillary Clinton: “Above all, keep going”

  1. JanF
    May 27, 2017 at 6:22 am

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci: Hillary Clinton’s Commencement Speech Made It Sound Like All of America Was Graduating

    Her address was broad enough feel like an encouraging pat on the back for everyone. It was as if all of America was graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and the crushing sense that the world was about to eat us alive, and Clinton stepped in to say, no, you can do it. […]

    Clinton took some time to bash the Trump administration, as every good 2017 commencement speech should. She called his budget proposal “a con” and “an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us … shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie.” She shouted out to the history majors, who should know that “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.” She spoke eloquently about the importance of voting rights, freedom of speech, and open-mindedness.

    Then came the good stuff, the inspirational cocaine that keeps us (me?) coming back to commencement speeches long after we’ve (I’ve?) aged out of whippersnapper territory. “I believe with all my heart that the future of America, the future of the world, depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity right now, every day,” Clinton said. “You didn’t create the circumstances, but you have the power to change them.” YES. Yes I do! “Don’t be afraid of your ambition, your dreams, or even your anger. Those are powerful forces, but harness them to make a difference in the world.” My dreams have meaning and can make great things happen! “You are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that.” Please tape this to my cubicle. Clinton is the self-affirmation morning mirror mantra we (I?) need at this demoralizing moment in American history.

  2. Denise Velez
    May 27, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Was inspiring to watch – and to see the response of those students!

    • JanF
      May 27, 2017 at 9:00 am

      That’s why I chose the official Wellesley College YouTube. Not only to get the wonderful introduction from the president but to see the reaction of the students.

      How wonderful it must feel for those young women to share an alma mater with such an inspirational figure and hear her words of encouragement!

  3. JanF
    May 27, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Furious. And Resigned. And Funny. And Worried.

    When I walk into the Chappaqua dining room in which Hillary Clinton is spending her days working on her new book, I am greeted by a vision from the past. Wearing no makeup and giant Coke-bottle glasses, dressed in a gray mock-turtleneck and black zip sweatshirt, Hillary looks less Clinton and more Rodham than I have ever seen her outside of college photographs. It’s the glasses, probably, that work to make her face look rounder, or maybe just the bareness of her skin. She looks not like the woman who’s familiar from television, from newspapers, from America of the past 25 years, but like the 69-year-old version of the young woman who came to the national stage with a wackadoodle Wellesley commencement speech in 1969. With no more races to run and no more voters to woo with fancy hair, Clinton appears now as she might have if she’d aged in nature and not in the crucible of American politics. Still, this is not Hillary of the woods. She is reemerging, giving speeches and interviews. It’s clear that she is making an active choice to remain a public figure.

    There is more.

  4. princesspat
    May 27, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Thanks Jan…..it’s so good to read her inspiring words.

    This paragraph in Traister’s piece stays with me, especially the last line…….

    The anger at Clinton from some quarters — in tandem with the beatification of her from others — reminds us just how much this election tapped into unresolved and still largely unexplored issues around women and power. In the aftermath, the media has performed endless autopsies. We have talked about Wisconsin, about Comey, about Russia, about faulty messaging and her campaign’s internal conflicts. We have fought over unanswerable questions, like whether Sanders would have won and whether Clinton was particularly mismatched to this political moment, and about badly framed conflicts between identity politics and economic issues. But postmortems offering rational explanations for how a pussy-grabbing goblin managed to gain the White House over an experienced woman have mostly glossed over one of the well-worn dynamics in play: A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America.

    • JanF
      May 27, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Indeed, princesspat. And in the end I believe that it was that bridge too far – having to choose the woman over the man – that doomed her candidacy. I look at the people who I come in contact with in the course of my business and I think “would this man have voted for a woman for president?” In too many cases, my sense is that the answer would be no.

  5. Batch
    May 27, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Thanks Jan…Always wonderful hearing Hillary speak…Glad she’s where she is at…The I don’t give a $@^% space…It puts her where she can say what she wants and send the asshats into a frenzy of stupidity!

  6. bfitzinAR
    May 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    During the 2008 campaign Maya Angelou made an ad for Hillary – I’m not quoting exactly but the essence of it was that Hillary draws her strength from us, that she believes in us – and it’s up to us to believe in her. Hillary does draw her strength from us, partly from our strength we so gladly send but partly from our pain and need for her to be strong. She looks out and sees America’s need, takes a deep breathe – and answers it. That’s what she was doing in her Wellesley speech. That’s what she’s doing with the Onward Together organization.

    In 2008 she put 18 million cracks in the hardest and highest glass ceiling. In 2016 she put another 66 million cracks in it – actually broke it but those broken pieces managed to prop each other up so it didn’t fall. I have no idea who out there – of all the little girls – will be the one to surpass her in qualifications and make it all the way through. Whoever she is will have to both surpass Hillary in qualifications and find a way to break through the media-enabled and re-enforced misogyny. But someone will. And living or dead, Hillary will be there to see her take the oath of office.

    • JanF
      May 28, 2017 at 6:54 am

      I doubt that anyone will surpass Hillary in qualifications – she needed that to become the first nominee – but there are certainly plenty of women who are qualified to be president and who will arrive at the presidency no less experienced than Barack Obama did. What it takes is intelligence and the ability to find and hire the right people to help. President Obama chose Joe Biden as VP to add the piece he was missing, deep foreign policy expertise and Joe brought an understanding of the government institutions and knowledge only gained by years of experience in Congress. A good leader doesn’t have to do it all; they just have to put together the right team.

      I would prefer that Hillary sees it in person! It probably won’t happen in 2020 because I think that the berners will hijack the Democratic Party and make it too toxic for a woman to run. So unless the worse happens, Republicans keep the presidency through 2024, the earliest a Democratic woman could run and win would be 2028. I think that Kamala Harris has the right resume but there are also some young Democratic men who would be excellent presidents. I am not going to put a gender test on who I support.

      The first woman president may actually be a Republican (a Vice President Nikki Haley assuming power scenario). That would be the “Nixon to China” moment that might break the logjam. Or make it worse! Stay tuned …

      • bfitzinAR
        June 5, 2017 at 12:49 pm

        I won’t be surprised if you’re correct. I also won’t be surprised if you’re not. :) If the Extreme Left and Right manage to cancel each other out over the next few years, we may get the presidency back in 2020. There are just so many ifs right now.

  7. JanF
    May 28, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Don’t miss the student commencement address by Tala Nashawati, the daughter of Syrian immigrants.

    It is comforting to know that there are smart, engaged women ready to take on the challenges of 21st century America.

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