New York senator and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73 has agreed to speak at this year’s Class Day, a celebration for graduating students, an assistant for Clinton’s scheduler in Manhattan said Friday.
Clinton, who was requested for Class Day by many seniors, would be only the fourth female Class Day speaker in the last two decades. The assistant, Tracy Gordy, said that the senator had scheduled the trip to Yale May 20.
Clinton makes her schedule only four to six weeks in advance, which means the Class Day engagement may not be confirmed for several weeks. But Gordy said the fact the day is already written on Clinton’s calendar means the senator has agreed to come, barring an emergency.
Class Day committee co-chair Addisu Demissie ’01 said last week the committee has a definite back-up in case the committee’s top pick falls through. Demissie had no comment last night.
There is no word on whether Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, will attend.
Some students said they worry about such a partisan selection — Hillary Clinton is both one of the most revered and one of the most reviled public figures in the country today.
Yale College Republicans President Howard Clark ’01 said he would likely avoid the speech because he worried the Democratic senator would take the opportunity to advocate liberal views.
“You better believe there isn’t going to be one conservative Republican showing up,” Clark said. “Whoever is picking the speaker has to realize is there also a large majority that don’t want this person. I will think much less of Yale in future years.”
Clark added that he wished the committee would have selected a less partisan speaker.
The Yale College Republicans protested a speech Clinton gave at New Haven City Hall in October 1996, but Clark said his group would not stage a protest on Class Day.
Clinton’s classmates said they are confident Clinton will give a good speech. Nancy Bekavac LAW ’73, the president of Scripps College, where Clinton spoke in 1994 and a friend of Clinton’s, said Clinton puts a lot of effort into speaking for young people. Judy Harris LAW ’73 said most criticism of Clinton is “horribly unfair.”
“She did have a great sense of humor, and really is a fun and humorous person,” Harris said. “People who have just thought of her as a policy nerd or a cold person just couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
For Clinton, returning to Yale for Commencement comes as she graduates from the White House into her own public service career. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1973 after four years of studying law and child psychiatry.
Bill Clinton reportedly told guests at a 1999 fund raiser for his wife’s Senate campaign that she is now doing what “she should have been able to do in ,” when the couple moved from New Haven to Arkansas so Bill could pursue a political career.
Law School classmates said the young Hillary Rodham definitely seemed destined for a career in public service. But Clinton, they said, did it on her own terms.
“She’s taught me … that the perils of leadership and what it’s supposed to look like and sound like is very different for a woman from a man,” Bekavac said.
Hillary and Bill skipped out of school for a few months in the fall of 1972 to volunteer in Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s campaign. The pair dated for two years and were seen very much as “a couple,” classmates said.
The couple’s first date was in the Yale University Art Gallery’s sculpture garden in 1971. After they began dating, Bill moved out of the beach house he shared with other students to a New Haven apartment with Hillary. They were active members of the Barristers Union, which performed mock trials.
At their graduation, Yale Law School Dean Abraham Goldstein spoke about Watergate.
“What I remember is Goldstein pointing out that many of the people at the heart of the Watergate scandal were lawyers,” Bekavac said. “It should make us all think about our role in public life.”
Clinton spoke at her Wellesley College graduation in 1969. In her address, she said “prevailing acquisitive and competitive corporate life is not for us. We’re searching for more immediately ecstatic and penetrating ways of living.”