Hillary Clinton Attacks Donald Trump at Wellesley College Graduation

Chelsea Bailey
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers the Commencement Address at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, U.S., May 26, 2017.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

Hillary Clinton returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, Friday to deliver a fiery commencement address that attacked President Donald Trump and his policies — but it was her implicit comparisons between Nixon's resignation and the current administration that drew the loudest cheers.

Clinton lashed out at what she described as the "unimaginable cruelty" of Trump's budget proposal and the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories and internet trolls. But when she talked about the mood on campus in 1969, the year she graduated, she got her biggest reception.

"We were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with impeachment for obstruction of justice — after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice!" she said.

"But here's what I want you to know: We got through that tumultuous time."

Hillary Clinton delivers Wellesley College's commencement address
Hillary Clinton delivers Wellesley College's commencement address

Clinton was referring to President Richard Nixon, who left office after resigning while facing the threat of impeachment in August 1974. The FBI is currently probing whether Trump associates coordinated with the Russian campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential contest. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was heading up the investigation, earlier this month.

The steady rain and overcast skies didn't dampen the spirits of the graduating class of 2017, who greeted the former secretary of state and graduate with a long, loud ovation. And while her speech frequently needled her former rival and criticized the divisive political climate, Clinton also urged students to stand up for their values, and above all the truth.

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"You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason," she said. "The future of America depends on brave, thoughtful people insisting on truth and integrity right now, every day."

"You didn't create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them."

She had words of encouragement for the women about to enter the next phase of their lives, telling them, "Don't let anyone tell you your voice doesn't matter."

"In the years to come, there will be trolls galore online and in person, eager to tell you that you don't have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a nasty woman," she said, referring to an insult Trump hurled at her during one of the presidential debates.

"Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of touch with real people. In other words, sit down and shut up. Now, in my experience, that's the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate," she said.

In many ways, Friday's speech was reminiscent of Clinton's graduation speech — Wellesley's first-ever student address — which historians say helped brand 22-year-old Hillary Rodham as a political force.

Before delivering her prepared speech at that ceremony, Clinton paused to criticize remarks made by Edward Brooke, a Republican senator from Massachusetts, who discouraged students from getting involved in the anti-Vietnam protests.

"We feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible," she said. "And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible."

Clinton told this year's graduates that she's launching the grassroots organization "Onward, Together," to create a new generation of political activists. And despite her loss last year to Trump, Clinton still wholeheartedly believes in graduates' ability to make change.

"You may have heard that things didn't exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I'm doing OK. I've gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won't lie: Chardonnay helped a little too," she said.

She went on to add: "It's often during the darkest times when you can do the most good," she said. "I'm very optimistic about the future because I think after we've tried a lot of other things we get back to the business of America."

Wellesley College is a private all-female liberal arts college located outside of Boston.