On Feb. 1, Wellesley College announced that Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69 will be the class of 2017 Commencement speaker. It will be one of the largest events that Secretary Clinton has spoken at since conceding the presidential election to Donald Trump.
According to Casey Butler ’17, co-president of the class of 2017, the Class Council worked closely with College administration to bring Secretary Clinton to campus, stating that “the administration submitted the formal request, and they corresponded directly with Secretary Clinton and her team. . . After receiving a ton of great input from our classmates, we told the administration that Secretary Clinton was our top pick. That’s when they proceeded with the invitation.”
Victoria Zhu ’17, vice-president of the class of 2017, confirmed that Secretary Clinton was definitely a popular choice among the graduating class. She declared that “among Class Council members, she seemed to be everyone’s first choice, before and after the election. After the election, we felt that we would especially appreciate her words as a call to action to keep moving forward. However, we wanted to make sure that we were representing our class with our pick. Over the summer, we sent out a survey to the class of 2017 asking for the type of speaker they wanted to see at graduation. Those survey results made it clear to us that our class would be just as excited as we were to bring Secretary Clinton to campus.”
Zoe Swarzenki ’17 believes that saying students are excited to hear Secretary Clinton speak is an understatement.
“I personally am thrilled to have her on campus. I was really hoping that it would be her but knew that it would be a bit of a stretch. She’s been such an inspiration to me throughout this campaign and election, starting in the primaries and through to today. I wish I had even a fraction of her grace under pressure, her belief in her own abilities or her thick skin, among other things,” Swarzenki stated.
Alumnae of the college seem to be just as excited as current students.
The Alumnae Association released a statement reading in part that it is “beyond thrilled about the exciting news that Hillary Rodham Clinton ‘69 has been chosen by the class of 2017 as their Commencement speaker. The alumnae response has been joyful and supportive.”
On the Facebook group Wellesley Women for Hillary, posts circulated by alumnae speculated about the possibility of flooding Commencement to show support for Secretary Clinton after the election. A notable contingent of commenters on the post, including current members of the class of 2017 and alumnae alike, were less than thrilled about the idea of alumnae attendance at Commencement.
Sam Goldstein ’16, a commenter on a popular post in the group about alumnae attendance, believes that Commencement is not a place for alumnae. “As an alum, I absolutely do not feel that Commencement is a space that I am entitled to, unless my presence is on behalf of the graduates,” she confirmed.
Swarzenki, who also commented on the post in the Facebook group, believes that alumnae should not attend Graduation at all. “I really, really would prefer for alums to not be present on campus during Graduation.”
She also worries that in light of alumnae interest in Secretary Clinton’s speech, there may not be enough room for the friends and families of class of 2017 to watch Graduation, adding that “in my opinion, all tickets should be reserved for seniors and their friends/ family. Some of us have large families and are worried that they won’t have enough tickets for all of them, and allowing anyone on campus who isn’t here for a senior would be unfair to us. I love that alums want to support us, but frankly, I’m not sure they would be interested in attending if we had a different speaker – certainly not in the numbers they’re discussing.”
In their statement, the Alumnae Association addressed the worries of the class of 2017 by making clear their intention to keep the focus on the class of 2017.
“As always, the event will be focused on them and their families, friends and faculty who have supported them through what is the beginning of their lifelong connection to the Wellesley community,” the statement reads in part.
Swarzenki posed a solution of her own, believing that it is possible for alumnae to support Secretary Clinton without their physical presence on campus. “I think it makes the most sense for them to have independent watch parties with their local alumnae clubs, perhaps with a hashtag they can use to show support for Hillary and 2017,” she said.
Goldstein believes that it’s the college’s job to stem alumnae’s plans. “I do think that the college itself needs to speak on behalf of the graduating class’ wishes. It is clear that many students do not feel comfortable with large numbers of alumnae showing up, and want to remember this as their day,” she said.
Butler is not particularly worried about excitement for Secretary Clinton’s appearance eclipsing Commencement, commenting that “everyone involved in planning Commencement knows that May 26th belongs to the Class of 2017. This is a day to celebrate our hard work and our achievements.”