Hillary Rodham Clinton Graduates from Wellesley College
In 1965, Rodham enrolled at Wellesley College, where she majored in political science. During her freshman year, she served as president of the Wellesley Young Republicans; with this Rockefeller Republican-oriented group, she supported the elections of John Lindsay and Edward Brooke. She later stepped down from this position, as her views changed regarding the American Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. In a letter to her youth minister at this time, she described herself as "a mind conservative and a heart liberal." In contrast to the 1960s current that believed in radical actions against the political system, she sought to work for change within it. In her junior year, Rodham became a supporter of the antiwar presidential nomination campaign of Democrat Eugene McCarthy. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rodham organized a two-day student strike and worked with Wellesley's black students to recruit more black students and faculty. In early 1968, she was elected president of the Wellesley College Government Association and served through early 1969; she was instrumental in keeping Wellesley from being embroiled in the student disruptions common to other colleges. A number of her fellow students thought she might some day become the first woman President of the United States. So she could better understand her changing political views, Professor Alan Schechter assigned Rodham to intern at the House Republican Conference, and she attended the "Wellesley in Washington" summer program. Rodham was invited by moderate New York Republican Representative Charles Goodell to help Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s late-entry campaign for the Republican nomination. Rodham attended the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami. However, she was upset by how Richard Nixon's campaign portrayed Rockefeller and by what she perceived as the convention's "veiled" racist messages, and left the Republican Party for good.
Returning to Wellesley for her final year, Rodham wrote her senior thesis about the tactics of radical community organizer Saul Alinsky under Professor Schechter (years later while she was First Lady, access to the thesis was restricted at the request of the White House and it became the subject of some speculation). In 1969, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, with departmental honors in political science. Following pressure from some fellow students, she became the first student in Wellesley College history to deliver their commencement address. Her speech received a standing ovation lasting seven minutes. She was featured in an article published in Life magazine, due to the response to a part of her speech that criticized Senator Edward Brooke, who had spoken before her at the commencement. She also appeared on Irv Kupcinet's nationally syndicated television talk show as well as in Illinois and New England newspapers. That summer, she worked her way across Alaska, washing dishes in Mount McKinley National Park and sliming salmon in a fish processing cannery in Valdez (which fired her and shut down overnight when she complained about unhealthy conditions).
Remarks of Hillary D. Rodham, President of the Wellesley College Government Association and member of the Class of 1969, on the occasion of Wellesley's 91st Commencement, May 31, 1969:
I am very glad that Miss Adams made it clear that what I am speaking for today is all of us -- the 400 of us -- and I find myself in a familiar position, 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 task of criticizing and constructive protest and I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said. This has to be brief because I do have a little speech to give. Part of the problem with empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn't do us anything. We've had lots of empathy; we've had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible. What does it mean to hear that 13.3% of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That's a percentage. We're not interested in social reconstruction; it's human reconstruction. How can we talk about percentages and trends? The complexities are not lost in our analyses, but perhaps they're just put into what we consider a more human and eventually a more progressive perspective. The question about possible and impossible was one that we brought with us to Wellesley four years ago. We arrived not yet knowing what was not possible. Consequently, we expected a lot. Our attitudes are easily understood having grown up, having come to consciousness in the first five years of this decade -- years dominated by men with dreams, men in the civil rights movement, the Peace Corps, the space program -- so we arrived at Wellesley and we found, as all of us have found, that 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. What we did is often difficult for some people to understand. They ask us quite often: "Why, if you're dissatisfied, do you stay in a place?" Well, if you didn't care a lot about it you wouldn't stay. It's almost as though my mother used to say, "I'll always love you but there are times when I certainly won't like you." Our love for this place, this particular place, Wellesley College, coupled with our freedom from the burden of an inauthentic reality allowed us to question basic assumptions underlying our education. Before the days of the media orchestrated demonstrations, we had our own gathering over in Founder's parking lot. We protested against the rigid academic distribution requirement. We worked for a pass-fail system. We worked for a say in some of the process of academic decision making. And luckily we were in a place where, when we questioned the meaning of a liberal arts education there were people with enough imagination to respond to that questioning. So we have made progress. We have achieved some of the things that initially saw as lacking in that gap between expectation and reality. Our concerns were not, of course, solely academic as all of us know. We worried about inside Wellesley questions of admissions, the kind of people that should be coming to Wellesley, the process for getting them here. We questioned about what responsibility we should have both for our lives as individuals and for our lives as members of a collective group.
Coupled with our concerns for the Wellesley inside here in the community were our concerns for what happened beyond Hathaway House. We wanted to know what relationship Wellesley was going to have to the outer world. We were lucky in that one of the first things Miss Adams did was to set up a cross-registration with MIT because everyone knows that education just can't have any parochial bounds any more. One of the other things that we did was the Upward Bound program. There are so many other things that we could talk about; so many attempts, at least the way we saw it, to pull ourselves into the world outside. And I think we've succeeded. There will be an Upward Bound program, just for one example, on the campus this summer.