Photo by Erik Jacobs
If you ever want to see what a happy, patient crowd looks like, invite 1,000 students, faculty, and staff to take seats in Alumnae Hall and then ask them to wait an hour or two—for Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69. Everyone will stay, socialize, and, well, cheer when a Secret Service agent pops his head around the curtains on stage. And when Clinton herself comes out—having triumphed over plane-delaying high winds and a congested Mass Pike—there will be a deafening welcome.
Warming up for her 2017 commencement address, Clinton visited campus on March 2 and appeared on stage with President Paula Johnson, engaging in a one-on-one discussion on everything from her Wellesley years to women in politics to the need for stamina and resilience, both physical and emotional. She then took questions from students in the audience.
Caroline Bechtel ’17—a senior being commissioned into the U.S. Army this spring who says she has recently “spent a lot of time … thinking about the type of leader I want to become”—asked the first question: “What are some experiences that changed your perspective on servant leadership? How did these moments impact your leadership philosophy going forward?”
The answer? “Speaking about her time in the Senate, she emphasized the importance of listening to and connecting with the people you serve,” Bechtel says. “Doing so reminded her of her purpose in the Senate: to improve the lives of others through the betterment of policy.” Compromise, Bechtel learned, was central to that work. In order to get things done, you must reach across the aisle.
The senior says she enjoyed Clinton’s frankness and humor and found the evening invigorating. Bechtel is quick to offer thanks to the College for the opportunities it provides: “As my brilliant friend Caitlin McCarey ’17 put it, it’s not every day you get to have a candid conversation with the most powerful woman in America—unless, of course, you go to Wellesley.”