Clinton, Albright Call for Leadership that Unites at Wellesley College Reunion

The former U.S. secretaries of state—two of the three women ever to hold that office—came together at their alma mater, Wellesley College, for reunion weekend and a conversation with Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson.


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    Credit: Joshua Touster for Wellesley College

    Former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Korbel Albright joined Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson for a conversation as part of their reunion weekend.

Wellesley, Mass. (June 12, 2019) – As part of Wellesley College’s annual reunion weekend, former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Korbel Albright joined Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson for a conversation about their time at Wellesley, their service as secretary of state, their experiences in politics, and human rights and women's rights.

“I just want to say thank you for taking the time for this conversation. And as we proceed, we are among friends, so I am going to drop the ‘Secretary,’ is that okay? We are just going to go with ‘Madeleine’ and ‘Hillary,’” said Johnson, to laughter and cheers from the audience, as she welcomed the two leaders back to campus.

Albright was celebrating her 60th reunion with the class of 1959, and Clinton was marking her 50th with the class of 1969. They shared some of their early experiences at Wellesley and the challenges they faced, how times were changing when they were at the College, and society has changed since then—from expectations of women’s roles, to global politics and the dynamics of our country.

The conversation touched on the winding paths that led them to their roles in office. Johnson commented, “I think it is so important that as women we also understand that our lives have various rhythms and that for our students, especially, sometimes they feel that they have to have it all planned out; it doesn’t happen that way, right?”

“I was able to combine my different lives, but [it was] very different from what I thought I was going to do,” said Albright, who founded the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley. “I loved foreign policy. There was no question. Wherever we went, I started an international relations club and made myself president of it, and all we ever did at my house was talk about foreign policy, but it never, ever occurred to me that I could have a job like that.”

Clinton spoke about when then-President-elect Barack Obama asked her to be secretary of state and what she learned from her time in that post. “It was an incredible experience, and it was an amazing opportunity to represent our country,” said Clinton. “Madeleine always talked about how, when you land in another country and there on [the] plane, it says ‘The United States of America,’ it really does instill in you an incredible sense of honor, but also a responsibility—that is what I think was the most amazing part of the job.”

On human rights as women’s rights and the progress still needed to ensure equality around the world, Albright said, “It is unfinished business, and I think we have to stay with it. We also have to recognize that women do have to work harder. There is no question. And I have said this—and I apologize to the men in this audience—there is plenty of room in the world for mediocre men, and there is no room for mediocre women, and we have to work twice as hard.”

Regarding the current state of our democracy and leadership and the recently released Mueller report, Clinton said, “There are so many Republicans who are speaking out, who are organized, who keep trying to sound the alarm. But not enough of us, and that means, regardless of party—and I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, vegetarian—it doesn't matter. Whatever you are, if you care about this incredible experiment that we have been engaged in now for 200-plus years, then you have to be concerned about this. We can get back to arguing about all kinds of things. I was in the Senate for eight years. I worked with and I opposed Republicans. That is the way it is supposed to work. And there were Republicans then who are still there who know better and are afraid to stand up and say what they know.”

Albright discussed what she learned about the polarization of society while writing her new book, Fascism: A Warning. “It is very hard to define fascists because fascism is not an ideology. It is a process for gaining power because there are divisions,” Albright said. “What is needed is a leader who can find common answers and find ways to solve the problems rather than somebody that exacerbates [those] divisions.”

Watch the full, live program.

About Wellesley College

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an outstanding liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to some 2,400 undergraduate students from 49 states and 58 countries.

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