Wellesley Releases Audio of Hillary Clinton’s 1969 Commencement Speech

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Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers the commencement address for the Wellesley College class of 1969. Wellesley College

Wellesley College on Monday released audio and photos from Hillary Clinton’s (then Hillary Rodham) 1969 commencement address, which thrust her into the national spotlight for the first time, but certainly not the last.

Clinton’s speech made news in part because she chided Senator Edward Brooke, who was sharing the dais with her. A liberal Republican, Brooke was the first popularly elected black senator and enjoyed wide popularity with Democrats and Republicans alike in Massachusetts, where Wellesley is located. He gave the keynote speech moments before Clinton spoke.

But Brooke was a supporter of President Richard Nixon’s policies in Vietnam, and Clinton took advantage of the high-profile occasion to offer a gentle rebuke.

“I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said. This has to be quick because I do have a little speech to give. Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn’t do us anything,” Clinton said. “We’ve had lots of empathy; we’ve had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”

The speech became part of a Life magazine cover story on “The Class of ’69,” which included other prominent campus speakers, including Ira Magaziner from Brown University, who went on to become a top Clinton adviser.

On the campaign trail, Clinton has had to grapple with the insurgent, idealistic campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has accused Clinton of thinking only within the realm of possibility.

The release comes as Clinton and Sanders head into the last big primary day of the election cycle. On June 7, six states, including delegate-rich California and New Jersey, will vote. If Clinton manages to increase her delegate lead, which she’s done in every primary so far, she stands a good chance of clinching the nomination before the party’s convention.

Clinton attended Wellesley from 1965 to 1969. She was the first student to give a commencement speech at Wellesley, chosen unanimously by her classmates. One of the classmates she thanked personally was Eleanor Acheson, who remains a close friend of Clinton’s and the granddaughter of one of Clinton’s predecessors, the late Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

The newly discovered audio recording and photos were discovered at Wellesley College.