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Why Hillary Clinton was dubbed the 'Golden Girl' in college

Wellesley College-graduate (as well as future US First Lady Class and Secretary of State) Hillary Rodham (later Clinton) talks about her speech at the college commencement, Connecticut, June 11, 1969. Among other things, her speech addressed student protests, which she had supported as president of Wellesley College Government Association, and was delivered following the official commencement speech from Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke.
Photo by Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has been called many things, from "HRC" (a behind-the-scenes nickname used by her aides while she was secretary of state) to a "nasty woman" (courtesy of then presidential opponent Donald Trump). 

But in college, a 21-year-old Hillary Rodham was dubbed the "golden girl" by The Boston Globe after she upstaged a senator's commencement speech at her graduation.

On May 31, 1969, Clinton graduated along with the rest of class from Wellesley College. Then Republican Sen. Edward W. Brooke from Massachusetts gave the commencement address — one that didn't sit well with Clinton and some of her classmates. 

Brooke urged the graduates, who were all women, to reject violent protests against the Vietnam War. (The protests had begun largely on college campuses among liberal groups but by 1969 were taking place throughout the country.) 

"It was a message of, 'All as well. The system works.' It was also, though, a message subtly of your place as wives and mothers," Jan Piercy, Clinton's Wellesley classmate said in the Hulu documentary series, "Hillary," which premieres on Friday. 

WELLESLEY, MA - MAY 31: Hillary Rodham Clinton as a Wellesley College senior, May 31, 1969. (Photo by John M. Hurley/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe

Clinton, who was president of the student government and had been nominated by her classmates to give a graduation speech after the senator, was "very upset," she said in "Hillary."

"I wanted to counter the picture that Sen. Brooke was painting," Clinton, now 72, said.

Though Clinton never believed violence was the answer, she did believe young people and women had a right to voice their opinions about the war. So instead of starting off with her prepared speech, Clinton reacted to Brooke's comments. 

"What I'm speaking for today is all of us, and I find myself reacting, just briefly, to some of the things that Sen. Brooke said," Clinton told her class, according to the documentary. 

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

"Every protest, every dissent is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age," Clinton said.

She received a seven-minute standing ovation from her 400 fellow graduates.

Clinton was also featured in the Sunday edition of the Globe the following day: "From Goldwater Girl to Golden Girl," the article said. (Clinton, who grew up in a conservative family, was not old enough to vote but was a supporter of Republican Barry Goldwater when he unsuccessfully ran for president in 1964.)

According to the documentary series, Clinton was also featured in Life Magazine the following week, "as one of three college seniors picked out as speaking for their generation," Alan Schechter, Clinton's former professor of political science at Wellesley College, said in "Hillary." "That was her first brush with notoriety or fame."

Piercy, now a long-time friend of Clinton's, said that graduation speech was "preparing" Clinton for political life.

After college, Clinton went on to Yale Law School, where she met Bill Clinton. 

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