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Politics

How Hillary Clinton’s Commencement Speech 49 Years Ago Launched Her Career

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Wellesley College; Paul Marotta/WireImage

Hillary Clinton gave a headline-making commencement speech at her alma mater, Wellesley College, on Friday, challenging the current administration and speaking up for her beliefs.

Back in 1969, she did pretty much the same thing.

The striking similarities in between these two times — 1969 and 2017 — allowed Clinton to provide guidance today on how her generation got through “that tumultuous time” and “turned back the tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion.” Though, she admitted “today has some important differences.”

“The advance of technology, the impact of the Internet, our fragmented media landscape makes it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers,” Clinton said on Friday. “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.”

Hillary Clinton

According to the Boston Globe, Clinton (then Hillary Rodham), was a graduating senior and the first to be given a speaking opportunity at her commencement, following a U.S. senator.

Sen. Edward W. Brooke glossed over the issues that troubled the 401 graduating seniors at the all-women’s college, per the Globe, and Rodham had something to say about that — a daring move at that time.

Though some parents and administrators did not take kindly to her message, Rodham’s classmates responded with a standing ovation, who knew their speaker as a leader and campus activist, according to the Globe. She indeed acted as president of Wellesley Young Republicans prior to her evolution into a liberal Democrat.

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“We feel that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible,” said Rodham. “And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.”

“Rodham’s classmates — awed by her poise, delighted with her message — greeted the speech with sustained applause, enveloping her in a thunderous, seven-minute standing ovation,” Charles Kenney wrote in his 1993 Globe article, “Hillary: The Wellesley Years,” which was recently resurfaced online.

“The young women clapping and cheering and smiling in the May sunshine knew that Rodham’s words had come from the heart; that this had not been some petulant act of self-indulgence. For these women knew Hillary Diane Rodham well.”