Encouraging the graduating class to follow their dreams and to care for their hair, Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73 spoke at Yale’s 300th Commencement as Class Day speaker Sunday. Dressed in a teal-blue pantsuit, a hatless Clinton stood at a podium on Old Campus before a crowd of nearly 20,000 and talked about public service, children’s issues and the global AIDS crisis.
Facing nearly 1,300 seniors, many of whom stood out more for their creative headgear than skin color, Clinton commented on the diversity of the students before her. She told graduates to “dare to compete, dare to care, dare to dream and dare to love.” Sharing personal stories about her political activism at Yale, her campaign for a New York Senate seat and her passion for helping underprivileged children, Clinton advised students to pursue their dreams, no matter how big.
“You will face setbacks, and can have the breath knocked out of you,” Clinton said. “Listen to the small voice inside you that says ‘You can do this.’”
Drawing on the words of Harriet Tubman, the ex-slave who helped bring many African Americans to freedom during the Civil War with the Underground Railroad, Clinton told the Class of 2001 to “keep going, no matter what happens.”
The speech was largely personal, but Clinton did deal a few political blows. Talking about her campaign to help elect Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 to the Connecticut state Senate, she said Lieberman was “elected — and got to serve,” making a not-so-subtle reference to the recent presidential election.
The New York senator also touched on the AIDS crisis, urging students to “care for those who need our help.” Yale faculty and students sent a letter this week to President George W. Bush ’68 urging his administration to take active leadership in combatting AIDS around the globe.
Clinton opened her speech with the story of how she chose between Yale and Harvard law schools. While visiting Cambridge, she met a stodgy Harvard law professor who readily informed her that Harvard Law School had no competitors and needed no more women. Clinton said her choice was made, and the Wellesley College graduate arrived at Yale in the fall of 1969.
Clinton delivered a message from her husband and Yale Law School classmate, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73. She wished the graduates good luck on his behalf, saying the former nation’s chief was likely finishing up a round of golf in Ireland as she spoke.
The most resounding message of Clinton’s speech was perhaps her warning that “hair matters.” Joking with graduates, Clinton said she was debating joining in the tradition of wearing a funny hat for Class Day, but decided against it because “hats do a real number on your hair.”