Hillary Clinton’s stirring speech

Hillary Clinton at 2016 campaign event

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, and gave a commencement speech that was full of inspiration, humor, warnings about the direction that America is taking, and some thinly veiled attacks on Donald Trump and his White House. The audience ate it up, and Clinton’s speech is a potent blueprint for Democratic causes and candidates.

The setting of Clinton’s speech is noteworthy, because Hillary became famous for giving a powerful commencement speech (the first by a student) at her own graduation from Wellesley in 1969. At that time, Clinton had her written speech all ready to go, but when the speaker before her, U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, criticized the students who were then protesting the Vietnam War on campuses all over America, Clinton put aside her speech first to give a passionate, extemporaneous response to Brooke.

Fast forward to yesterday. Clinton has had a lifetime of public service (including U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State) and hard work on behalf of progressive causes and people in need, from the Children’s Defense Fund to the Legal Services Corporation to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Clinton brought her unique experiences to bear in her speech to the Wellesley Class of 2017. For example:

On equal rights and justice:

We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, would ever be treated with dignity and respect.

On comparisons between the presidencies of 1969 and today:

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.

On her generation’s efforts to bring about social justice:

We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion.

On today’s divisions enabled by media:

The advance of technology, the impact of the Internet, our fragmented media landscape, make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers…. Extreme views are given powerful microphones.

On the attack on truth and reality:

You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason…. People denying science…. Drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor…. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds.

On Republican policies:

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.

On the Democratic Party idea of Good Government:

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.

On the importance of activism and participation in society by young people:

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…. 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…. So if your outreach is rebuffed, keep trying. Do the right thing anyway. We’re going to share this future, better do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.

Hillary Clinton’s words come from the DNA that has long formed the beliefs and values of Democrats, progressives and liberals. Like-minded politicians and citizens alike would do well to carry her message forward.

Photo by Kyle Taylor, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/Vpc4mc




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