Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks to Wellesley College Class of 1992
Friday, May 29, 1992
President Keohane, Trustees, Faculty, Students, Parents,
Friends, and, most of all, Honored Graduates of the Class of
This is my second chance to speak from this podium. The
first was 23 years ago, when I was a graduating senior. My
classmates selected me to address them as the first
Wellesley student ever to speak at a commencement.
I can't claim that 1969 speech as my own; it reflected
the hopes, values and aspirations of the women in my
graduating class. It was full of the uncompromising language
you only write when you are 21. But it's uncanny the degree
to which those same hopes, values and aspirations have
shaped my adulthood.
We passionately rejected the notion of limitations on our
abilities to make the world a better place. We saw a gap
between our expectations and realities, and we were
inspired, in large part by our Wellesley education, to
bridge that gap. On behalf of the class of 1969, I said,
"The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of
making what appears to be impossible, possible." That is
still the challenge of politics, especially in today's far
more cynical climate.
The aspiration I referred to then was "the struggle for
an integrated life...in an atmosphere of...trust and
respect." What I meant by that was a life that combines
personal fulfillment in love and work with fulfilling
responsibility to the larger community. A life that balances
family, work and service throughout life. It's not a static
concept, but a constant journey.
When the ceremonies and hoopla of my graduation were
over, I commenced my adult life by heading straight for Lake
Waban. Now, as you know, swimming in the lake, other than at
the beach, is not allowed. But it was one of my favorite
rules to break. I stripped down to my swimsuit, took of my
coke-bottle glasses, laid them carefully on top of my
clothes and waded in off Tupelo Point.
While I was happily paddling around, feeling relieved I
had survived the day, a security guard came by on his
rounds, picked up my clothes from the shore and carried them
off. He also took my glasses. Blind as a bat, I had to feel
my way back to my room at Davis.
I'm just glad that picture hasn't also come back to haunt
me. You can imagine the captions: "Girl offers vision to
classmates and then loses her own." Or, the tabloids might
have run something like: "Girl swimming, blinded by aliens
after seeing Elvis."
While medical technology has allowed me to replace those
glasses with contact lenses, I hope my vision today is
clearer for another reason: the clarifying perspective of
experience. The opportunity to share that experience with
you today is a privilege and a kind of homecoming.
Wellesley nurtured, challenged and guided me; it
instilled in me, not just knowledge, but a reserve of
sustaining values. I also made friends who are still among
my closest friends today.
When I arrived as a freshman in 1965 from my "Ozzie and
Harriet" suburb of Chicago, both the college and the country
were going through a period of rapid, sometimes tumultuous
changes. My classmates and I felt challenged and, in turn,
challenged the college from the moment we arrived. Nothing
was taken for granted. Our Vil Juniors despaired of us
green-beanied '69ers because we couldn't even agree on an
appropriate, politically correct cheer. To this day when we
attend reunions, you can hear us cry: "1-9-6-9 Wellesley
Rah, one more year, still no cheer."
There often seemed little to cheer about. We grew up in a
decade dominated by dreams and disillusionments. Dreams of
the civil rights movement, of the Peace Corps, of the space
program. Disillusionments starting with President Kennedy's
assassination, accelerated by the divisive war in Vietnam,
and the deadly mixture of poverty, racism, and despair that
burst into flames in the hearts of some cities and which is
still burning today. A decade when speeches like "I Have a
Dream" were followed by songs like "The Day the Music Died."
I was here on campus when Martin Luther King was
murdered. My friends and I put on black armbands and went
into Boston to march in anger and pain - feeling as many of
you did after the acquittals in the Rodney King case.
Much has changed - and much of it for the better - but
much has also stayed the same, or at least not changed as
fast or as irrevocably as we had hoped.
Each new generation takes us into new territory. But
while change is certain, progress is not. Change is a law of
nature; progress is the challenge for both a life and
society. Describing an integrated life is easier than
Yet, what better place to speak on integrating the
strands of women's lives than Wellesley, a college that not
only vindicates the proposition that there is still an
essential place for an all-women's college, but which
defines its mission as seeking "to educate women who will
make a difference in the world."
And what better time to speak than in the spring of 1992,
when women's concerns are so much in the news, as real women
- an even fictional television characters - seek to strike
the balances in their lives that are right for them.
I've traveled all over America, talking and listening to
women who are: struggling to raise their children and
somehow make ends meet; battling against the persistent
discrimination that still limits their opportunities for pay
and promotion; bumping up against the glass ceiling;
watching the insurance premiums increase; coping with
inadequate or non-existent child support payments; existing
on shrinking welfare payments with no available jobs in
sight; anguishing over the prospect that abortions will be
We also talk about our shared values as women and
mothers, about our common desire to educate our children, to
be sure they receive the health care they need, to protect
them from the escalating violence in our streets. We worry
about our children - something mothers do particularly well.
Women who pack lunch for their kids, or take the early
bus to work, or stay out late at the PTA or spend every
spare minute taking care of aging parents don't need
lectures from Washington about values. We don't need to hear
about an idealized world that never was as righteous or
carefree as some would like to think. We need understanding
and a helping hand to solve our own problems. We're doing
the best we can to find the right balance in our lives.
For me, the elements of that balance are family, work and
First, your personal relationships. When all is said and
done, it is the people in your life, the friendships you
form and the commitments you maintain that give shape to
your life. Your friends and your neighbors, the people at
work or church, all those who touch your daily lives. And if
you choose, a marriage filled with love and respect. When I
stood here before, I could never have predicted - much less
believed - that I would fall in love with Bill Clinton and
follow my heart to Arkansas. But I'm very glad I had the
courage to make that choice.
Second, your work. For some of you, that may overlap with
your contribution to the community. For some of you, the
future might not include work outside the home (and I don't
mean involuntary unemployment); but most of you will at some
point in your life work for pay, maybe in jobs that used to
be off-limits for women. You may choose to be a corporate
executive or a rocket scientist, you may choose to run for
public office, you may choose to stay home and raise your
children - you can now make any or all of these choices for
the work of your life.
Third, your service. As students, we debated passionately
what responsibility each individual has for the larger
society and just what the College's Latin motto - "Not to be
ministered unto, but to minister" - actually meant. The most
eloquent explanation I have found of what I believe now and
what I argued then is from Vaclav Havel, the playwright and
first freely-elected President of Czechoslovakia. In a
letter from prison to his wife, Olga, he wrote: "Everything
meaningful in life is distinguished by a certain
transcendence of individual human existence - beyond the
limits of mere 'self-care' - toward other people, toward
society, toward the world...Only by looking outward, by
caring for things that, in terms of pure survival, you
needn't bother with at all...and by throwing yourself over
and over again into the tumult of the world, with the
intention of making your voice count - only thus will you
really become a person."
I first recognized what I cared most about while I was in
law school where I worked with children at the Yale New
Haven Hospital and Child Study Center and represented
children through legal services. And where during my first
summer worked for the Children Defense Fund. My experiences
gave voice to deep feelings about what children deserved
from their families and government. I discovered that I
wanted my voice to count for children.
Some of you may have already had such a life-shaping
experience; for many, it lies ahead. Recognize it and
nurture it when it occurs.
Because my concern is making children count, I hope you
will indulge me as I tell you why. The American Dream is an
intergenerational compact. Or, as someone once said, one
generation is supposed to leave the key under the mat for
the next. We repay our parents for their love in the love we
give our children - and we repay our society for the
opportunities we are given by expanding the opportunities
granted others. That's the way it's supposed to work. You
know too well that it is not. Too many of our children are
being impoverished financially, socially and spiritually.
The shrinking of their futures ultimately diminishes us all.
Whether you end up having children of your own or not, I
hope each of you will recognize the need for a sensible
national family policy that reverses the neglect of our
If you have children, you will owe the highest duty to
them and will confront your biggest challenges as parents.
If, like me at your age, you now know little (and maybe care
less) about the mysteries of good parenting, I can promise
you there is nothing like on-the-job-training.
I remember one very long night when my daughter, Chelsea,
was about four weeks old and crying inconsolably. Nothing
from the courses in my political science major seemed to
help. Finally, I said, "Chelsea, you've never been a baby
before and I've never been a mother before, we're going to
have to help each other get through this together." So far,
we have. For Bill and me, she has been the great joy of our
life. Watching her grow and flourish has given greater
urgency to the task of helping all children.
There are many ways of helping children. You can do it
through your own personal lives by being dedicated, loving
parents. You can do it in medicine or music, social work or
education, business or government service, by making policy
or making cookies.
It is a false choice to tell women - or men for that
matter - that we must choose between caring for ourselves
and our own families or caring for the larger family of
humanity. In their recent Pastoral Letter, "Putting Children
and Families First," the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops captured this essential interplay of private and
public roles: "No government can love a child and no policy
can substitute for a family's care," the Bishops wrote, but
"government can either support or undermine families...There
has been an unfortunate, unnecessary, and unreal
polarization in discussions of how best to help
families...The undeniable fact is that our children's future
is shaped both by the values of their parents and the
policies of our nation."
As my husband says, "Family values alone won't feed a
hungry child. And material security cannot provide a moral
compass. We need both."
Forty-five years ago, the biggest threat to our country
came from the other side of the Iron Curtain; from the
nuclear weapons that could wipe out the entire planet. While
you were here at Wellesley, that threat ended.
Today, our greatest national threat comes not from some
external Evil Empire, but from our own internal Indifferent
Empire that tolerates splintered families, unparented
children, embattled schools, and pervasive poverty, racism,
Not for one more year can our country think of children
as some asterisk on our national agenda. How we treat our
children should be front and center of our national agenda,
or it won't matter what else is on that agenda.
My plea is that you not only nurture the values that will
determine the choices you make in your personal lives, but
also insist on policies with those values to nurture our
"But, really Hillary," some of you may be saying to
yourselves, "I've got to pay off my student loans. I can't
even find a good job, let alone someone to love. How am I
going to worry about the world? Our generation has fewer
dreams, fewer illusions than yours."
And I hear you. As women today, you face tough choices.
You know the rules are basically as follows:
- If you don't get married, you're abnormal.
- If you get married but don't have children, you're a
- If you get married and have children, but work
outside the home, you're a bad mother.
- If you get married and have children, but stay home,
you've wasted your education.
- And if you don't get married, but have children and
work outside the home as a fictional newscaster, then
you're in trouble with Dan Quayle.
So you see, if you listen to all the people who make
these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course
of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your
bed. But let me propose an alternative.
Hold onto your dreams. Take up the challenge of forging
an identity that transcends yourself. Transcend yourself and
you will find yourself. Care about something you needn't
bother with at all. Throw yourself into the world and make
your voice count.
Whether you make your voice count for children or for
another cause, enjoy your life's journey. There is no dress
rehearsal for life, and you will have to ad lib your way
through each scene. The only way to prepare is to do what
you have done: get the best possible education; continue to
learn from literature, scripture and history, to understand
the human experience as best you can so that you have
guideposts charting the terrain toward whatever decisions
are right for you.
I want you to remember this day and remember how much
more you have in common with each other than with the people
who are trying to divide you. And I want you to stand
together then as you stand together now; beautiful, brave,
Congratulations. Look forward to the challenges ahead.