Our Capacities and the Road Ahead

Guess who spoke at Wellesley’s commencement this year?


And guess who listened to every minute of her commencement address as well as student Tala Nashawati’s speech and President Paula Johnson’s address?


With a box of tissues nearby. I know. I’m such a snowflake.

Tala had me in tears at the get go when she compared her class members to emeralds. A little background here. Each class has a class color – red, yellow, purple, or green – which rotate every four years. Both Meagan and I were red. This year’s class and Hillary’s class were green. So, here is what Tala had to say about green emeralds:

Emeralds are valuable, rare, and pretty durable. But there’s something else emeralds are known for: their flaws. … It’s nearly impossible to find a completely flawless emerald. Flawed emeralds are sometimes even better than flawless ones, because the flaws show authenticity and character. So, yes, we are still flawed. … Let yourself be flawed.


She also noted that she was “the daughter of two Syrian immigrants who worked and worked and worked so that I could stand on this stage.”

President Johnson welcomed those in attendance and thought about those who were not there – including family members who could not risk traveling into or within the United States.

She noted this was her first commencement at Wellesley. What a year to start off as the new president of Wellesley College.

These are not easy times. Along with the usual challenges life inevitably brings, you are graduating into a world that is increasingly polarized, where many of the values at the heart of a liberal arts education are under fire. These include the importance of evidence-based debate in the pursuit of truth. The belief that diversity—both of ideas and lived experience—enrich us all. The conviction that every human being—every woman—deserves an opportunity to thrive.

In her introduction, Dr. Johnson described the Hillary Clinton she has come to know. Hard working and never giving up, “she reminds us both of our capacities and how far we have to go.”

Hillary demonstrated a small glimpse of her never-give-up attitude in the early moments of her speech. She lost her voice, but in a discreet but obvious move, she popped a lozenge and pushed on to the delight of the crowd.

She told the students and those of us online that she was doing okay. And we all got the sense she was doing much better than okay.

She compared the tumultuous political and social environment that existed when she gave her first speech at Wellesley as a student with the environment today. She told the students they “are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.” She warned them that “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.”

But here is what she told them to do in the face of that:

If you feel powerless, don’t. 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. 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.

I’d like to get to the point where that’s the last thing you tell any woman.

She told them not to be afraid of their ambitions, their dreams, or even their anger.

Not even your anger.

I loved that part.

And this: “One of the things that gave me the most hope and joy after the election, when I really needed it, was meeting so many young people who told me that my defeat had not defeated them.”

And then she ended with this:

So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don’t do it because I asked you to. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it’s often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try, fail, try again, and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.

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. I believe in you. With all my heart, I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great.

I hope we all dig down into our reserves, find out what we are capable of, and take on the road ahead so we get to where we need to go.


Additional photos available at judybrownphotography.com

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4 Responses

  1. susancolt says:

    My favorite MM blog post by a long country mile. Thank you!

  2. Sharon says:

    Keeping it real, Mich !! Thanks 🙏🏻