Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton received the Radcliffe Medal—an honor that recognizes “an individual who has had a transformative impact on society”—in a ceremony Friday.
The Institute presented Clinton with the award on Radcliffe Day, a yearly celebration held during Harvard’s Commencement week. Past Radcliffe medalists include U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, tennis player Billie Jean King, writer Toni Morrison, and University President Drew G. Faust.
In remarks she delivered before awarding the medal to Clinton, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute Lizabeth Cohen praised Clinton’s “lifetime of exemplary service and profound impact.”
“She uses her fierce intellect and determination to create meaningful political and social change,” Cohen said.
In a keynote conversation she held with Mass. Attorney General Maura T. Healey ’92 earlier in the day, Clinton said she feels honored to be selected for the award.
“I really was absolutely thrilled because I have followed over the years what the Institute has done,” Clinton said. “A number of women whom I admire have been on this stage receiving this medal.”
The ceremony honoring Clinton came at the end of a series of conversations and speeches that lasted much of the day Friday. Earlier in the day, Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns moderated a panel entitled “Toward a New Global Architecture? America’s Role in a Changing World,” which featured Michèle A. Flournoy, David R. Ignatius, Meghan L. O’Sullivan, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. Former U.S. Secretary of State and Radcliffe Medal recipient Madeleine K. Albright delivered a tribute to Clinton after the panel.
Clinton told Healey she hopes people will continue to pursue careers in government in spite of what she characterized as a negative political environment under President Donald Trump’s administration. She said people in government will have to “pick up the pieces” after Trump’s time in office ends.
“I hope people who are so motivated will continue to go into government,” she said. “This too shall pass.”
In a speech she gave after accepting the medal, Clinton defended the importance of higher education at a time when some senators and representatives have expressed growing disillusionment with colleges and universities around the country.
“Higher education is one of the greatest accomplishments of the United States,” she said. “Stand up and defend the open inquiry, stand up and defend reason and facts.”
Clinton further urged the audience to embrace “radical empathy,” which she described as “reaching across the divides of race, class, and mostly politics” to “try to return to rational debate” and “disagree without being disagreeable.” She said this empathy is necessary to heal a country that she described as “dangerously polarized.”
“I know we don’t think of politics and empathy as going hand in hand these days, but they can and they must,” she said. “I say this not as a Democrat who lost an election but as an American who is concerned about losing a country.”
She said that “attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, between truth and reality” should trouble all Americans and that Americans should attempt to build what she called “democratic resilience.” She urged Americans to support “brave journalism and reporting” and to vote “in every election, not just the presidential ones.”
“I am optimistic about the future because of how unbelievably tough we are proving to be,” she said.