At the crux of Clinton’s speech was a call to arms to the graduating class at the women’s college, encouraging them to become politically engaged and to “advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.”
But she peppered the speech with a series of strongly worded criticisms of the Trump administration’s conduct and policies, attacking its use of the term “alternative facts,” its boasting about the size of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration, its proposed budget, and Trump’s use of the phrase “nasty woman” to refer to her in a debate.
Clinton told the students they were “graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.”
“When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” Clinton said.
Clinton added that some “are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds and then defending themselves by talking about ‘alternative facts.'”
Trump and his surrogates faced criticism after Trump’s inauguration for pushing back on media coverage suggesting that President Barack Obama had much larger crowds at his 2009 inauguration. Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, then said the administration was putting out “alternative facts” on Trump’s crowd size.
Clinton also called Trump’s proposed budget “an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us — the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hardworking people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle-class life.”
She said that when she graduated in 1969, she and her fellow classmates were similarly “furious” about a recent election — that of President Richard Nixon. She went on to add, to roaring applause, that Nixon’s presidency “would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice.”
But, Clinton said, “we got through that tumultuous time.”
Clinton’s reference to Nixon and impeachment seemed deliberate considering the recent controversy over Trump’s firing of the FBI director, James Comey, who was overseeing the bureau’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to swing the 2016 election. Comey’s firing has led to questions over whether Trump was trying to obstruct that investigation.
The latter part of Clinton’s speech focused on encouraging young women and girls to get engaged in politics and to make the changes in society they want to see.
She pushed back against criticism of elites, telling the graduates to not let people tell them their voices don’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,'” Clinton said. “Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of touch with real people.”
But she encouraged the graduates not to lose hope.
“It’s often during the darkest times that you can do the most good,” Clinton said, later adding: “Don’t be afraid of your dreams, your ambitions, or even your anger — those are powerful forces, but harness them to make a difference in the world.”