Wellesley’s Own: Hillary Clinton’s Formative College Years

Written by Shannon Golden

By Shannon Golden
BU News Service

Forty-seven years ago, Wellesley College’s student government president stood in front of her 400 peers and delivered the school’s first student commencement address.

Today, that same woman stands in front of her 324,707,000 fellow citizens as she runs for president of the United States.

“For too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible,” said Hillary Rodham to those gathered at the 1969 Wellesley graduation ceremony. “And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”

Hillary Diane Rodham, now Hillary Clinton, spent her undergraduate years leaving her mark on Wellesley. She studied political science and was the head of College Government, an honor student and, at one point, the head of College Republicans. Her on-campus involvement and popularity among her peers is why she was chosen to be the first student commencement speaker in Wellesley history.

Credit: Holly Zappola and Will Tentindo

Clinton’s time at Wellesley was highlighted by her well-known graduation speech, in which she delivered the impromptu rebuttal to commencement speaker Massachusetts Republican Sen. Edward W. Brooke. The speech was one of the first events to catapult Clinton into the limelight of politics and even landed her a spot in the June 20, 1969 issue of LIFE, in an article titled, “The class of ’69.”

It was at Wellesley where Clinton underwent her transformation from a moderate republican to a committed democrat. Issues such as the Vietnam war, civil rights and civil liberties turned Clinton from a “Goldwater girl” to the democratic leader the country sees today.

“Because of Wellesley I am a much more confident person who believes that we should serve each other just as the Wellesley motto asks us to do,” Clinton said in a recent interview done by the college. “I have tried in my own way to be of service thanks to the lessons from Wellesley.”

Today, almost half a century later, Wellesley students are still feeling the influence that Clinton left on campus.

“There has been a lot of excitement on campus with debate viewings, mock debates, and other events to get students involved in the election,” said Fiona Harrington, a first year student at Wellesley. “Even though I am not a supporter of either candidate, it is a really exciting time to be a Wellesley student.”

The Wellesley student body has been extremely involved with the 2016 election. Students have hosted phone bank opportunities, taken part in door-to-door campaigning, and have had numerous watch parties for the debates. One of the most popular events to take place at Wellesley was a recent rally on campus with Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

“My mother is extremely jealous that I am here and she is not,” Chelsea Clinton said at the Wellesley rally on Oct. 13. “But her heart is here, and I think it always has been since she first walked on this campus more than 40 years ago.”

Wellesley students are walking the same campus that possibly the next president of the United States once walked which seems to be creating a new energy on campus.

“I think everyone here is for Hillary,” said Callie Kim, a junior at Wellesley. “There is a complete feeling of positive energy on campus. Students are so engaged and it is just really exciting to be here while history is being made.”

Students excited for Clinton’s run for president, but they also view her as a role model for Wellesley women.

“She shows us all that women are capable of doing whatever they want,” Kim said. “It shows us that Wellesley women can go wherever they want. Wellesley creates women that breakthrough glass ceilings just like Clinton is doing now.”

On election day,  Wellesley will host an all-day watch party. The Wellesley community will be waiting to see if one of their own becomes the next President of the United States of America.

“I think the best experience was being part of a community where women were the leaders,” Clinton said in a video her campaign released where she discussed the effect Wellesley had on her. “It was a great lesson that women could do many things even though we might not have had the opportunities or taken them before. I think that was the lasting experience I began to have upon arrival and took away with me.”

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