Hillary Clinton's voice, nearly 50 years ago, is almost unrecognizable

By Diana Pearl
June 06, 2016 04:40 PM
Credit: Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

If all goes according to predictions, Hillary Clinton is set to make history by clinching the Democratic nomination for president Tuesday night – and her focus will swiftly turn toward the general election in November.

But first, her alma mater, Wellesley College, is looking back – to the first time Clinton made history.

The college released an audio clip of Clinton, then known as Hillary Rodham, giving the 1969 address at her college graduation. The audio was just recently rediscovered in the Wellesley archives, college officials said.

Clinton, a political science major (go figure!) who graduated with honors, was the first-ever student speaker at the school’s commencement.

Her introduction by the college’s then-president, Ruth Adams, makes it clear that Clinton was well respected among her peers and by the college’s faculty.

“There was no debate, as far as I could ascertain, as to who their spokesman would be,” Adams says of the selection process for the commencement’s student speaker. And before turning over the lectern to the young Ms. Rodham on that May morning in 1969, Adams went on to observe: “She is also cheerful, good-humored, good company and a good friend to all of us.”

Clinton’s selection as her class’ student commencement speaker earned her quite a bit of publicity at the time, too – and this was way before her years in either the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion or the White House. She was the focus of a profile in Life magazine back in 1969.

She certainly had ambitions at the time – even if she couldn’t be sure of what her future held – and used her moment in the spotlight to discuss the politics and attitudes of world leaders of that era.

“We feel that for too long, our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible,” Clinton says in a youthful voice almost unrecognizable and unmarked by the Southern twang that would come later. “And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.”

Clinton speaks of the obstacles she and her classmates faced as women in a world that was, for the most part, run by men.

“Our attitudes are easily understood, having come to consciousness in the first five years of this decade, years dominated by men with dreams,” she said. “Men in the civil rights movement, men in the peace corps, the space program. So we arrived at Wellesley, and we found that, that all of us have found, there was a gap between expectation and realities. But it wasn’t a discouraging gap, and it didn’t turn us into cynical, bitter old women at the age of 18. It just inspired us to do something about that gap.”

“Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it,” she says. “Not now.”

Listen to her speech in full above.