Former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton visited campus last Friday, October 25 as part of the Kerschner Family Global Leaders Series at Colgate.
Clinton met with a small group of students, professors and faculty during the day and delivered a public lecture, followed by a question and answer session with University President Jeffrey Herbst, at 6 p.m. in Sanford Field House. The event occurred during Family Weekend 2013, and was sold out.
The Swinging ‘Gates, Colgate’s female a cappellagroup, opened the evening with a musical performance introduced by Leo Russell P’15, the Chair of the Parents’ Steering Committee. Maxine Kerschner P’07, ’09, who, along with her husband Edward, began the endowment for the Global Leaders series, also spoke, followed by Herbst’s introduction for Clinton.
“Those 13 men did something right and their 13 prayers were answered. This has become one of the most dynamic centers of education in the country,” Clinton said.
She had visited Colgate once prior, during the launch of the Upstate Institute in 2004. Focusing on foreign affairs, Clinton spoke about the role of the United States and difficulties internationally.
“The geometry of global power has become more complicated and diffuse,” Clinton said. “[But,] American leadership has become more necessary, not less. The changes we are seeing line up better with America’s strengths. I think we are in a position of rebirth of American leadership.”
“The most notable emerging powers, with the exception of China, are democracies,” Clinton said, acknowledging that China has risen peacefully.
“The spread of democratic aspirations is good for the United States,” Clinton continued. “But, it remains to be seen if the ‘habits of the heart’ that [Alexis] de Tocqueville said will be embedded.”
These “habits of the heart” – which emphasize family, religion and participation in politics – were observed by de Tocqueville during his visit to the United States in the nineteenth century. He cites these qualities as the way in which Americans avoided the “soft despotism” of influence from a colonizing power, and were able to forge a unique American identity.
Additionally, Clinton argued that surges in the younger population across the globe may mean a change in diplomacy from the American perspective.
“Can the United States build new relationships with this huge coterie of young people [internationally]?” Clinton asked. “We need to deal with our differences in a thoughtful and prudent manner.”
Clinton then addressed some of the issues facing the United States domestically.
“We need to take on our own problems at home, including the gridlock that has paralyzed our system,” Clinton said. “Recently in Washington we saw when politicians choose scorched earth over common ground.”
“I like to think if we put the well-being of children and young people on the top of our list we will get back on track…if we prepare young people to be able to engage globally in the future,” Clinton said. “[Additionally,] we have to be prepared to renew that qualities that make us who we are as a people, like immigration reform, women’s rights and gay rights.”
During the question and answer session, President Herbst asked questions regarding the situation in Afghanistan, surveillance by the National Security Agency, attacks on technological assets, American credibility regarding Syria and Iran, responsibilities in Africa (especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the budget deficit. Clinton responded to each question in alignment with the views she has asserted throughout her political career.
Students had varying opinions about the lecture.
“I think she could have done a better job being more specific about the future of American leadership. I was disappointed by a traditional rhetoric that praised American exceptionalism but provided no clear advice or, ironically, leadership,” senior Emily Butler said.
“I thought that she was incredibly intelligent and it was nice that she linked her talk back to Colgate to make it more accessible to the audience,” sophomore Berit Danis said. “One thing I do wish, though, was that the questions asked were also more relatable to the audience.”
“We are preparing ourselves for the next great renewal of America’s character and spirit,” Clinton said. “I am hoping some of the [future] leaders in all sectors of society are sitting in front of me today.”
Contact Selina Koller at [email protected]