Dawn Kim, Contributing Photographer

Former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 came to Yale on Oct. 27, 2022, for a conversation on leadership with Law School Dean Heather Gerken. 

The event, hosted by the Tsai Leadership Program, saw about 400 attendees and was exclusive to law school students and affiliates. Gerken, who facilitated the discussion, centered the questions and discussion on “transformational leadership,” echoing the Tsai Leadership Program’s goal of exposing law students to innovative leaders from a variety of fields and broadening the focus of a traditional legal education.

“Secretary Clinton’s conversation with Dean Gerken was a remarkable, perhaps even once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were privileged to bring to students,” Mary Herrington, executive director of the Chae Private Sector Initiative for the Tsai Leadership Center, wrote to the News. “For us at the Tsai Leadership Program, it was an honor to host the Secretary and hear her definition of leadership, and especially to hear stories of her own development as a leader.”

With questions ranging from Clinton’s material work as a senator and cabinet member to her decision to run for public office, the audience was part of a well-rounded discussion.

Alvaro Perpuly ’23 commented that Clinton’s talk provided a special vantage point into the life of public office at the highest level of U.S. politics.  

“As someone interested in public service, it’s inspiring to hear stories of resilience and leadership like hers — someone who’s dedicated her life to fighting for others despite major challenges and pushback,” Perpuly said.

Similarly, Shaezmina Khan ’23 told the News that while she originally attended the event because of her interest in foreign policy, she later came to appreciate Clinton’s personal and professional reflections regarding the gendered implications of U.S. politics. 

For Khan, as well as many other women in the room, Clinton’s success transcended boundary after boundary. 

“It’s really nice to see people that graduated from institutions that you are at right now and hear about how they envisioned their trajectory when they were your age,” Khan said. “She was a trailblazer and opened a lot of doors, whether we agree with her policies when she was [working] under Obama or not.”

The sentiments regarding the place and power of women in politics reflects the messages found in Clinton’s 2017 book “What Happened?” In the book, Clinton commented that she tried to tackle “the ongoing, endemic, systematic presence of sexism and misogyny” in American society.

In the same vein, Clinton addressed attendees of the event in an approachable and relatable manner, with her three years at the Yale Law School allowing students to connect with the speaker despite her significant political accomplishments.

For instance, while at the Law School, she held a place on the editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, which the Hartford Courant described as “the radical counterpart to the mainstream Yale Law Journal.”

“It’s just such an exhilarating experience to hear from someone who has not only sat in the seats you’re sitting in, but also served in the highest levels of government,” Yash Chauhan ’26 said.

This event serves as Clinton’s fourth return to Yale, with three falling within the past seven years. Coming back for the first time in 2001 to speak at Yale’s graduation weekend, she has since returned to converse with Gerken about the 2016 election, as well as served as the Class Day speaker for the Yale College Class of 2018. 

The Tsai Leadership Program has also hosted Rhonda Joy McLean LAW ’83 and author Gretchen Rubin LAW ’94, among others, in support of its mission. 

The Program, funded by alumni donations from Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90, Clara Wu Tsai, Eugene Ludwig LAW ’73, Carol Ludwig, Michael Chae LAW ’97 and Alexa Bator Chae LAW ’97, launched in November of 2021.