Hillary Rodham Clinton Talks Social Change

The former U.S. secretary of state urges UM students to join the “participation generation,” and get involved.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 26, 2014) — She spoke of the importance of everyone playing an active role in bettering society, noting that even the earliest Americans, such as farmers who would travel miles just to help build a barn, understood the concept.

She recalled attending a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago and being inspired by the great civil rights leader’s plea for citizens to “participate in the cause of justice.” She talked about health care, renewable energy, and how she and President Obama had a shared vision of democracy and economic prosperity for Latin America.

But in the end, Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking Wednesday evening to thousands of students, visitors, and VIP guests at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center, avoided the million-dollar question on everyone’s mind: whether she will make a second run for the White House in 2016.

Her talk, which included opening remarks followed by a Q&A sit-down with UM President Donna E. Shalala—who, in her introductory comments referred to the former first lady as “a formidable champion of human rights”—took place as the list of potential candidates for the Oval Office continues to grow.

A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll shows most Democrats—8 in 10—want her to make a bid for the presidency. But when Shalala asked Clinton a cleverly couched question submitted by UM law student Howard Brilliant, who asked the former first lady to provide “some insight” into how the TBD in her Twitter bio will play out, Clinton wouldn’t provide any clues.

“Well, I really like to, but I have no characters left,” she joked, referring to the 140 character limit on Twitter posts. “I will certainly ponder that.”

The former secretary of state, who was at the forefront of the U.S. response to the Arab Spring, discussed a number of other topics, however. Like the importance of full and equal participation of women in economic, social, and cultural endeavors.

Twenty years after the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing—a summit Clinton attended—more girls are going to school and more women are serving in political and public positions, she pointed out. “But no country has achieved full participation. It is the work of this century to complete unfinished business,” she said.

As such, she detailed Clinton Foundation’s new No Ceilings project aimed at aggregating information from sources like the World Bank and Google to chart and evaluate the progress women and girls have made in the two decades since the Beijing summit. A collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, No Ceilings will convene the private sector, government, civil society, and individuals to chart a path forward to accelerate full participation for women and girls in the 21st century.

With hundreds of UM students looking on, Clinton urged them not to take for granted the sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents so that they could attend college. She urged them to be a part of the “participation generation” and commended them for efforts such as participating in 200 service-learning courses and traveling to Guatemala on a humanitarian mission that included building a playground for residents of a village.

“The more we can get people to participate to have a stake in the future, the better off we will be,” Clinton said.

Her Wednesday talk reunited her with Shalala, who served on President Bill Clinton’s cabinet as U.S. secretary of health and human services for eight years. “I have known her for—well, almost forever,” said Shalala. “She is my friend and colleague in too many adventures to count.”

Shalala took the lead in the Q&A portion of Clinton’s visit, posing questions submitted by students. Asked to comment on why it is important that everyone have health insurance, Clinton told students that being covered protects them from the unpredictable costs of health care. The vast majority of young people in their 20s will get through life without hardships such as automobile accidents and serious illness, but a “significant minority” will not, Clinton said. “You don’t know what category you’re in.”

Clinton added, “Ultimately having access to health insurance not connected to employment, subsidized as it is under the Affordable Care Act, liberates you to choose what you want to do in your life. You don’t have to take a job, as so many people did in my generation, just to have health insurance.”
On other topics, Clinton called for the international community to exert pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to honor the chemical weapons agreements reached last year so that the dangerous stockpiles won’t fall into the hands of terrorists.

She called for renewable energy initiatives and a decrease in the country’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The former secretary of state’s visit proved a learning experience for many UM students, who had the best seats in the house for her appearance: several rows of chair-back seats on the floor of the arena only a few feet from the stage, giving them a prime view of Clinton.

Joyce and Jessica Masangu, two sisters from the Congo who are students at UM, wanted to attend Clinton’s talk because they recalled her 2009 visit to their African nation and how Clinton highlighted the plight of women, meeting with rape victims and hearing their stories.

“A great opportunity” is how Joyce described seeing Clinton. “I’m always open to listening and learning from anyone, especially a former first lady who might be president of the United States one day.”

Maya Bell of UM News contributed to this report. Robert Jones can be reached 305-284-1615.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, delivered a spirited speech to students, faculty, staff and invited guests at the BankUnited Center during a visit to the University of Miami on Feb. 26, 2014.

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