On a humid Sunday afternoon inside Woolsey Hall, Class Day speaker Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 called on the class of 2018 to stay resilient in the face of failure and work to combat “a full-fledged crisis” in the United States’ democracy.
Clinton began her remarks with a lighthearted jab at some of the midwestern seniors whose states went red in the 2016 election, congratulating the entire graduating class — including “three students from Michigan who didn’t request absentee ballots.” She then wasted no time in enumerating her concerns about fake news, political polarization and American leaders who, she said, think of the world in zero-sum terms.
And in urging the graduating class to show resilience amid the political tumult, she invoked the racially charged protests that swept campus in the fall of 2015, when the graduates were first-semester sophomores.
“Today as a person, I’m OK, but as an American, I’m concerned,” Clinton said. “We also need community resilience. This is something your class has demonstrated … like in the March of Resilience your sophomore year. It was the biggest demonstration in the history of the school, that’s 300 years, led by women of color.”
Clinton noted that the class of 2018 is departing Yale during one of the most tumultuous periods in United States history, calling on graduates — and all American citizens — to “believe in the power of their actions.”
Pointing to the Calhoun name change in 2016, the addition of a residential college named in honor of Pauli Murray LAW ’65 and other grassroots activist efforts at Yale over the past four years, she praised the graduating seniors for their success in creating change.
“You kept fighting,” she said. “And in the end, you changed Yale as much as Yale changed you.”
After telling a few well-worn anecdotes about her time as a Yale law student — including her initial encounter with Bill Clinton LAW ’73 in the Law School library — Clinton also recalled the disappointment of her loss to President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. “No, I’m not over it,” she said, with a wry smile.
“This may be hard for a group of Yale soon-to-be graduates to accept, but yes, you will make mistakes in life; you will even fail,” Clinton said. “It happens to all of us no matter how qualified or capable we are, take it from me.”
Clinton joked that her methods of coping with the election outcome were not much different from those employed by Yale students: while she went on long walks in the woods, she said, Yalies went for hikes in East Rock.
“I had my fair share of chardonnay,” she added. ”You went through penny drinks at Woads.”
In a surprising turn of events, the sky remained clear throughout the relocated ceremony, which was moved from Old Campus because of predictions of thunder and lightning. Without their families — who were not allowed to enter the venue — seniors filed into Woolsey Hall wearing wacky Class Day hats.
After Clinton’s speech, Director of Athletics Thomas Beckett, Chair of the Council of Heads of College and Head of Pierson College Stephen Davis and Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun presented Class Day awards to Ben Reeves ’18, Jen Berkowitz ’18, Ivetty Estepan ’18, Haylee Makana Kushi ’18, Patrick Sullivan ’18 and Erika Eleanor ’18 for various achievements in athletics and academics and for contributions to the Yale community.
Among other winners, Jun Yan Chua ’18, a former Opinion Editor for the News, was awarded the Alpheus Henry Snow Prize for his achievements as a history major. Estepan and Kushi received the Nakanishi Prize for improving race and ethnic relations at Yale.
Other speeches and performances followed after the awards ceremony. Ben Kronengold ’18 and Rebecca Shaw ’18, both members of campus comedy groups, delivered a humorous performances discussing the pros and cons of leaving Yale as well as their real-life experience dating each other throughout their time at the University.
Later in the ceremony, Adwoa Buadu ’18 read a poem she wrote titled “the Fractal Salutation” that paid tribute to the struggles of the class of 2018 to come into its own over the course of four years at Yale.
“Let us hail everything that shattered, yes, hail to everything that shattered,” Buadu said. “Hail to the destruction of our brilliance, hail to the disbelief, the horrid shock that we weren’t as immune to failure as we believed, hail our stubbornness to accept it.”
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org
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