10 Famous Commencement Speeches


Hillary Rodham at Wellesley, 1969

hillary rodham, edward brooke
Hillary Rodham Clinton, at her 1969 graduation, is flanked by (left) John Quarles, chairman of the board of Wellesley College; Ruth M. Adams, president of Wellesley; and Sen. Edward W. Brooke. © Sygma/Corbis

"Every protest, every dissent, whether it's an individual academic paper, Founder's parking lot demonstration, is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age."

It was her first big speech, but there would be many more to follow. At her graduation from Wellesley College in 1969, Hillary Rodham became the first student in the college's history to deliver a commencement address. She was president of student government at the time.

Before beginning her prepared remarks, though, she criticized the event's previous speaker, Sen. Edward Brooke. In his speech, he had urged graduates to reject "coercive protest," which was a polite euphemism for near-riotous student demonstrations. It was an idea at which Rodham pointedly aimed when she took the podium. He was, it seemed to Rodham, too complacent. So she set aside her prepared speech and embarked on an elegantly efficient, impromptu response [source: Pinsky].

"What does it mean to hear that 13.3 percent of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That's a percentage. We're not interested in social reconstruction; it's human reconstruction," she said [source: Rodham].

Rodham got a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. And she was only getting started. As Hillary Clinton, she went on to scale great heights as first lady of the United States, a senator, secretary of state and a 2016 presidential candidate.