Hillary Clinton Receives Radcliffe Medal

Madeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lizabeth Cohen, and Maura Healey. Photo by Tony RinaldoMadeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lizabeth Cohen, and Maura Healey. Photo by Tony Rinaldo
Harvard Magazine
May 25, 2018
By Marina N. Bolotnikova

Sweltering heat didn’t deter some 2,000 Radcliffe alumnae and affiliates from gathering for today’s presentation of the 2018 Radcliffe Medal to Hillary Rodman Clinton. The honor is awarded yearly to “an individual who has had a transformative impact on society.” In introductory remarks, Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, confessed: “Every year, we strive to illuminate aspects of our medalist’s life and work that are not widely known but help us understand her achievements. You can imagine that this was very difficult to do when it comes to Secretary Clinton.”

Nevertheless, she continued, there was still an important story to tell: Clinton was raised by a conservative father, whose politics she absorbed, and eventually repudiated. When it came time to apply to college, Cohen explained, “As Clinton recalled, ‘My mother thought I should go wherever I wanted. My father said I was free to do that, but he wouldn’t pay if I went west of the Mississippi or to Radcliffe, which he had heard was full of beatniks. Smith and Wellesley, which he had never heard of, were acceptable.’” She added quickly: “Hillary, some of those beatniks your father warned you about are here today, celebrating their fiftieth reunion.” (Later, during Clinton’s public conversation with Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey ’92, the former presidential candidate recalled the drive with her parents to Wellesley: “We went through Harvard Square, and just at the most normal-looking person, my father would say, ‘See, I told you.’”)

At Wellesley, in 1969, Clinton became the college’s first student speaker at a commencement, and urged classmates to “make what appears to be impossible possible.” “The Radcliffe historians among us, and certainly the fiftieth-reunion class, will remember with some pride that Radcliffe students had succeeded in demanding a student commencement speaker the year before Wellesley, in 1968,” Cohen said. “Rachel Lieberman gave that address, and in Lieberman’s own telling, Clinton acknowledged that she and her classmates might never have had the courage to demand their own student speaker if Radcliffe hadn’t pulled it off first. Even if Hugh Rodham kept us from claiming Clinton as an alumna, we can at least take a little credit for her early success.”

Read the full article at the Harvard Magazine website.

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