Former US Secretary of State and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton praised Medgar Evers College’s graduating class for their diversity and urged them to fight for social justice in a fiery speech to graduates yesterday.
As the seasoned politician gave a politically-charged commencement speech, she was surrounded by a sea of creatively decorated mortarboards that cheered her on, though the reception at this school is noticeably cooler than the hero’s welcome she received at her alma mater, Wellesley College, last month.
“You are an inspiring group,” Clinton said to a crowd of roughly 1,300 graduates, as quoted by NY Daily News.
“You come from 94 countries, speak 44 languages — you embody what makes New York and America great already.”
Though she did not directly mention her election rival, now US President Donald Trump, Clinton made thinly veiled references to Trump’s administration and the controversies it has been embroiled with since taking office.
In applauding a Yemeni immigrant, a former deli worker who worked his way to graduating with honours, Clinton remarked: “I’m certainly glad he wasn’t banned from America,” she remarked.
But when it came to the issue of social justice, Clinton did not beat around the bush.
She called for graduates to uphold the legacy of the slain civil rights leader for whom the school is named as well as to fight for voting rights and rise up against the hate crimes.
“Never let anyone silence your voices,” Clinton said.
“Make your voices heard every single day. And when they even try to dismiss your lived experiences, maybe they’ll call it ‘identity politics’, stand up and say your identity is as important and valuable as the identity of anybody else who lives in the United States of America.”
Equally as clear as her messages on Thursday were the words emblazoned on the graduating class’ mortarboards, which bore phrases like “Like who would not want a girl with elegance, intelligence and a cute way of presenting it” and “Adore Her Hustle”.
While some students were less enthusiastic about the seasoned politician at their school – some feel Clinton has yet to prove her track record on black issues – others were excited for her speech and appearance.
In an interview with the New York Times, Jonathan Arcentale said: “I understand she doesn’t come from the same social class that I did — because my family comes from poverty.”
The 22-year old valedictorian said:
“But what she shares with all of us graduates is that she worked hard and has a positive attitude.”
Some parents are less muted in their excitement that Clinton was on stage and so close to their children, like 55-year-old Marcia Tisson.
“It’s amazing, amazing,” Tisson, whose 32-year-old daughter was in this year’s graduating class, said.
“I’m so proud of her. She is a strong woman. She is like me.”