Hillary Clinton Revisits Alma Mater

Sun shines on the Class of 1992, and it's still OK to make cookies - a letter from Wellesley College

WAKING up extra early in the morning is never a fun idea for this journalist. But sometimes that's what the job requires when there are big media events to cover like Hillary Clinton's speech at Wellesley College's graduation.

As it turned out, all that rushing around to get a good seat wasn't really necessary. Wellesley couldn't have asked for a better day and for a more manageable media affair. Traffic jams were minimal. Ladies-room lines were waitable. Media people were courteous. And the day was deliciously sunny and warm.

Quite a nice surprise considering the college's graduation two years ago. That was when Barbara Bush came to speak and Raisa Gorbachev also came to visit. And what a media circus that was! There were so many journalists covering Mrs. Bush that it almost seemed like a political campaign event rather than a college graduation.

Hillary Clinton's speech was well received. She is, herself, a 1969 graduate of Wellesley and seemed to relate well to this audience of career-minded women. She received her law degree from Yale Law School in 1973 and was later named to a list of "The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America" by the National Law Journal.

But in her speech, she talked about her concern for children. Mrs. Clinton spent more than 20 years working on children's issues through the Children's Defense Fund.

Too many of America's children are impoverished and neglected, she said, and our country needs a sensible national family policy. Clinton said there are many ways women can help children, whether through making policy or making cookies.

But Hillary said the woman of today faces tough choices. And, she said, it's OK for a woman to be whatever she wants as long as she throws herself into the world and makes her voice count. What the woman of today does not need, said Clinton, are lectures from Washington about family values.

But was it a Bill Clinton campaign speech or a commencement speech for Wellesley College? Class of 1992 graduate Sarah Cashin, of Chattam, N.J., said she admires Hillary but thought her speech was too political. Why did she mention husband Bill in the speech and why did she talk about an agenda for America? Couldn't she have directed her talk more to the Wellesley Class of 1992?

Other students were unconcerned. Smiling and serene, they were just pleased to graduate. Most seemed to like Hillary, even though there was a little controversy over her selection as commencement speaker this year. She wasn't initially on the list of possible speakers voted on by students, and was picked at the last minute.

Graduate Ria Spencer, busily greeting and hugging fellow classmates, was so hoarse from all the activity she could barely talk. While she is glad to be finished with college, she finds the day's experience "odd and surreal." Are there any jobs out there? she wonders.

Parents had their own concerns too. One father, Robert Rockwell, was pleased to see his fifth child graduate from college. Mr. Rockwell said it really spells relief: financial relief.

Soon, graduates started to filter down the hill to eat their last meal together as a class. Students and parents filled plates with sandwiches, raw vegetables, fresh strawberries, and frosted brownies.

They gathered in groups to say goodbye. Parents waited patiently while friends posed for pictures. Many graduates carried bouquets, adding a colorful contrast to their long, black gowns. There were tears and laughter.

And who knows? A few years down the road, one of them may be the chosen speaker whose presence at Wellesley lures a hard-working Boston journalist out of bed extra early.

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