On Saturday afternoon, Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 took the stage in Woolsey Hall to a loud roar of applause.
Clad in one of her signature pantsuits, Clinton — who came to campus this weekend to attend the Yale Law School Alumni Weekend — addressed a packed auditorium of thousands of students and alumni, speaking about her memories of Yale as a law student and her vision for America’s socioeconomically disadvantaged youth. While at Yale, Clinton accepted the YLS Alumni Association’s award of merit, which is given to a distinguished YLS graduate or faculty member each year.
Starting with her arrival at YLS in 1969, Clinton led the audience through the story of how her experiences in law school would eventually lead to her career in public service. She recalled first arriving on campus in bell-bottoms, driving a beat-up car with mattress tied to its roof.
“It was a tumultuous time in America, in New Haven and at Yale,” she said. “We had a lot of late-night heated arguments over the future of the country.”
Clinton highlighted the invaluable lessons she learned in New Haven outside of the classroom by speaking about her time working at the Yale Child Study Center and shadowing child abuse cases at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. These experiences led her to a long-term, dedicated concern for children’s welfare, she said.
Several times throughout her speech, Clinton mentioned her new “Too Small to Fail” initiative — a project that aims to improve the health and well-being of children under five years old through research and education outreach to parents and businesses.
“If you want to know about the moral, economic and social health of a society, look at the children,” Clinton said.
In his opening remarks before her speech, Yale Law School Dean Robert C. Post LAW ’77 called Clinton an “advocate, a practitioner … and a teacher, both to the nation and to the world.” Post added that some have speculated Clinton “might sometime soon seek to add one last elusive line to her resume” — a line that was greeted with thundering applause.
Ted Kennedy Jr. FES ’91 — son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — told the News after Clinton’s speech that he was impressed at how Clinton tied together her education at Yale and her thoughts on today’s political and economic climate. Kennedy added that he particularly enjoyed Clinton speaking of children as “canaries in the coal mine” of American society.
But some audience members were dissatisfied by the scope of Clinton’s speech. Wayne Lueders LAW ’73, a graduate of YLS in Clinton’s year, said he wished she had mentioned whether she plans on entering the presidential race in 2016. Nancy Pick LAW ’88 said she was disappointed that Clinton didn’t “attack the Republicans.”
Overall, reactions to the speech from students and alumni interviewed were positive. Many audience members throughout the crowd sported “Ready for Hillary” stickers, which were handed out by a student group associated with the Ready for Hillary political action committee.
“It was such a thoughtful and substantive speech,” said Mike Shapiro LAW ’16.
Andrew Park LAW ’08 said he was impressed by the “glimpse of her as a human being,” adding that he loved Clinton’s nostalgic tales of her time at YLS.
Post joked that the years 1969 to 1973 are known in the official history of YLS as “the dark ages,” due to the alternative social climate and frequent campus protests. But Clinton’s speech abounded with fond memories of her time at YLS — she spoke about helping to put out a fire in a library and meeting her husband Bill Clinton LAW ’73 for the first time in the YLS Library.
“It was definitely a walk down memory lane,” said Lueders.
Among those present in the audience were University President Peter Salovey, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Sen. John Danforth and Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Clinton — who was one of 27 women in her graduating class, out of a total 235 students — served as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Before that, she served as a U.S. senator from 2001 to 2009.