In 1969, a twenty-one-year-old Hillary Rodham delivered the commencement speech on behalf of her class at Wellesley College. “I find myself in a familiar position,” she began, “that of reacting, something that our generation has been doing for quite a while now.
We’re not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest.” Forty-eight years later, she returned, this time as a Clinton, a former First Lady, senator, and secretary of state, to speak to the graduating class of 2017.
“Here’s what I want you to know,” she said, referring back to the year she graduated. “We got through that tumultuous time, and once again, we began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of imagination.”
At twenty-one, she concluded her speech with an anecdote: “One of the most tragic things that happened yesterday, a beautiful day, was that I was talking to a woman who said that she wouldn’t want to be me for anything in the world. She wouldn’t want to live today and look ahead to what it is she sees, because she’s afraid.
Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it. Not now.” Her message, at age sixty-nine, remained the same. “Your education gives you more than knowledge. It gives you the power to keep learning and apply what you know to improve your life and the lives of others,” she said. “Get involved in a cause that matters to you. Pick one. Start somewhere. Y
ou don’t have to do everything. But don’t sit on the sidelines. And you know what? Get to know your elected officials. If you disagree with them, ask questions. Challenge them. Better yet, run for office yourself someday.”
The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont & illustrated by Manjit Thapp is published by Virago. Out now, £12.99