Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the commencement address to the 2017 graduating class at her alma mater, Wellesley College. I watched a livestream and was inspired and encouraged by many of her statements, and a bit disgruntled when so much of the subsequent news coverage I saw highlighted only the bits that referred to President Trump. The giddy headlines exclaiming “trolled” and “major shade!” and the isolated clips of her references to impeachment or crowd sizes are a gross mischaracterization of the overall message of her speech. These headlines all focus on Trump, but the core of her message was confirming to the young women graduating that they are empowered to shape our country’s future. She gave advice and encouragement that can benefit all Americans.
In the video above, Hillary’s remarks begin at 7:30. I certainly encourage you to watch the speech in its entirety so that you have the full context for each statement, rather than relying on my analysis any more than you should the commentary of any media outlet.
Her statement that “some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds” is at 19:05, then she goes on to criticize Trump’s proposed budget and outline the programs and vulnerable people it attacks, and emphasizes that the whole budget is predicated on “a trillion dollar lie”. She asserts that “It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them,” then goes on to emphasize that “this country was founded on…the belief that people, you and I, posses the capacity for reason and critical thinking, and that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy.” The passage below begins at 22:20 and is much more noteworthy to me than the preceding statements that so many media outlets chose to focus on:
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 our rights, and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.
Right now some of you may wonder, well, why am I telling you 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.
I wish that these quotes were getting more exposure.
I think my favorite passage in this speech is the one starting at 31:50 in the video above, transcribed below with emphasis added on the lines that stood out most to me:
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; keep going. Don’t be afraid of your ambitions, 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.
The urge to vote in all elections and fight voter suppression parallels the message in Obama’s speech at Selma , and like Obama, she ends on a note of optimism for the future.
When you feel discouraged, when you feel like your efforts are not making a difference, when you are at a loss for what to do next, re-watch this speech and be reminded that “there is only one answer: keep going.”