On March 5, 2014 for the third annual Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke in Royce Hall at the UCLA campus.
Clinton took the podium and presented her audience with a thoughtful and tantalizing speech. Her performance was strong and steady, nothing too fancy, but more than enough to make us all feel comfortable having this woman within the top leadership of our nation. Every issue, every topic, she addressed with an ease. She let her sense of humor shine through, owning the room with her even keeled responses to some fairly predictable questions. At times, she was tough and fearless, addressing pressing international issues and calling Putin a "tough guy with thin skin." She also focused on the future of the millennial generation, one defined by its bleak potential with little job opportunities on the horizon and little chance at achieving higher education. It was pointed to her audience, one comprised of faculty members, alumni, and students. Mostly the students.
Ah yes, the same students who only a few weeks prior woke up before the sun to storm the Central Ticketing Office just for a chance at getting a ticket to see Hillary Clinton. Having been a part of the 5:15 AM crowd that morning, I can tell you that mob mentality is a real thing, and it is a terrifying thing. There were twenty year olds hiding in bushes, and peaking out from construction sites; just waiting for the security guards to allow a line to form. The first couple of hundred in line were going to get tickets, and it would be dog fight to make it to the front of the line. I was pushed and shoved as hundreds of young people rushed towards the ticket windows. We stood for an hour, crammed together like sardines in a can, only to get entered into a lottery with 2,000 other students.
The best one-liner from that early morning crowd: "What would Hillary say?!"
She might have been somewhat appalled. Or, she might have been proud, excited to have such an eager constituency of young people. I say constituency, because when she announces her run for presidency at the end of the year, it just might be the least surprising moment of the decade.
And though her plan to run may not come as a shocker, with her early widespread support with the Ready for Hillary campaign and its super-PAC already in place, it is still amazing. When she walked out on the stage I was starstruck, overwhelmed to be in the presence of such a powerful, such a sensational political leader. A public servant, a Senator, a First Lady, a presidential candidate, a Secretary of State; an endless resumé of outstanding achievement. As a young woman who is a member of that millennial generation with so many troubles ahead, I felt comforted in her presence because she stands as proof that boundaries are to be breached and obstacles can and must be overcome.
I sat there and looked around at the students filling hundreds of seats in the upper balcony. Here we all are, edge of our seats, listening to a great political mind discuss the ongoing conflict with Russia and Ukraine, the future of America, the future of us. We are members of this troubled generation, with little hope for a fruitful future and gainful employment. And yet, we're here listening and learning. We woke up at the crack of dawn, some of us camped out overnight in front of Pauley Pavilion, not to see a movie star, but to attend a lecture. To listen to a member of our government.
Somehow I think my generation will be ok. I have to have that hope, I guess. Because when you put yourself in a room full of passionate, progressive young people who cannot withhold their applause for a female political powerhouse, you have to hope that we have some of our priorities in order.
We have to hold onto a strong sense of hope for tomorrow and passion for progress, in order to prevail over falling into our prescribed fate. I have never been able to accept failure or lose track of my fever for making a better future for myself and those around me. That's why I'm here at UCLA, and I can make a heavy wager that it's why my fellow students were sitting beside me in that lecture hall.
We came together to visit a source of wisdom and a leader who has shaped American history. Sure it wasn't a pretty sight that early morning weeks ago, but yesterday afternoon, one thing was so incredibly clear: that my generation, the troubled millennial generation, won't be going down without a fight.