Clinton’s loss in November was shocking for many people, and for a number of reasons, but it was a uniquely painful experience at her alma mater. While support for her wasn’t unanimous among students and alums, the general sense of the community as a whole was certainly behind her. Alexandra Schwartz chronicled the evening on campus for The New Yorker, explaining “I wanted to be in a world of women when the first female President of the United States was elected.” Those in the community who supported Clinton felt her run deeply intertwined with the college itself and its mission—that its students and alumnae are “Not to be ministered unto but to minister.”
The jubilant 3,000 or so alums who gathered at the college to watch the results come in were somber by the end of the night, stunned by the realization that the wider world doesn’t align with the predominant reality at Wellesley. In the months since, a school that champions the slogan “women who will” has had to contend with one woman who couldn’t—or, rather, one woman who did but was ultimately thwarted by a series of unprecedented events in the 2016 election, in addition to a flawed campaign.
Clinton acknowledged this painful reality in her speech Friday, but assured graduates that being at her alma mater was the right place to return after her loss. Her time at Wellesley was so valuable for precisely this reason, she explained. It offers its students and alums the “freedom to take risks, make mistakes, even fail in front of each other.”
Her failure and the current state of the country should be the animating force for the class of 2017, she advised. In talking to young women, she remained thankful that “my defeat had not defeated them” for the next generation now has the responsibility to protect truth and reason when both are under attack. “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,” Clinton said. “That is not hyperbole, it is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality.” She exhorted the role of college graduates, schooled in Enlightenment values, to combat “alternative” realities, and demand truth.
And, in a strongly worded comparison of the current political situation with that of her graduation year, she pointed out, “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.”
Despite the political turmoil that has surrounded her speeches, Clinton has urged persistence and optimism. Speaking decades ago, the young graduate reminded her classmates, “Fear is always with us but we just don't have time for it. Not now.” The same remains true today, 48 years later.