In the spring of 1969, Hillary Rodham delivered a commencement address on behalf of her graduating class at Wellesley College. Last Thursday, almost forty years later, the Senator turned Presidential candidate was back at Wellesley to deliver a speech to the Hillblazers -- a group of young female supporters she hopes to mobilize for her campaign. While her commencement speech was a tad unpolished and disjointed, Sen. Clinton's November 1st speech bore all the traits of a great orator and was delivered in a tone and manner that can only be described as presidential.
The focal point of Sen. Clinton's commencement address was activism. By her own admission, Sen. Clinton found herself in a familiar position -- "that of reacting". Then she issued a call to action to her classmates, with a reminder that "we do have that indispensable task of criticizing and constructive protest".
The watchwords for the speech were integrity, trust and respect. In a rather disjointed fashion, she expanded on the meaning. "Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence". Trust. "What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted. All they can do is keep trying again and again and again." Respect. "There's that mutuality of respect between people where you don't see people as percentage points. Where you don't manipulate people. Where you're not interested in social engineering for people".
By the time she returned to Wellesley last Thursday to launch Hillblazers, Sen. Clinton's station in life had changed drastically. In her commencement speech, Sen. Clinton said of her classmates, "we're not in the position yet of leadership and power". This time around she was addressing them in her capacity as former First Lady turned Senator and Presidential candidate. Sen. Clinton paid tribute to her alma mater, acknowledging that, "in so many way, this all women's college prepared me to compete on the all boys' club of presidential politics".
The theme of activism persisted in her November 1st speech. She pointed to the resurgence of activism on college campuses as students created sustainable food initiatives, hosted a concert to raise money for victims of genocide in Darfur, work to protect the environment by reducing energy and water use on campus, rallied to protest the unfair treatment of the Jena Six and traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
In a radical departure from her commencement speech, Sen. Clinton even injected a bit of humor into her speech last Thursday and drew applause when she paraphrased the "philosopher, Stephen Colbert, [who said] this administration doesn't make decisions based on facts, it makes facts based on decisions".
Historically, the "voice" of authority has been a male voice. Women were discouraged from being outspoken and were often told "bite your tongue". Even today, it is a risky proposition for a woman to adopt an unpopular stance or challenge authority. In their book, "Women Seen and Heard", authors Lois Phillips and Anita Perez Ferguson acknowledge "we see creative changes occur within every sector of society when women have become effective advocates for policy changes in the workplace, in government, and in their communities". The authors chronicle experiences of women who were initially terrified of giving a presentation, much less a speech, but who underwent a gradual metamorphosis and found a "voice". It was not just the ability to express ideas and project one's voice, but the confidence that came when one exercises the right to free speech.
Undoubtedly, Sen. Clinton has found her 'voice'.