Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former US Secretary of State, delivered a public lecture in Trinity College Dublin today in which she addressed the power of young people to shape the future, challenges to democracy and the role of women in politics.
In a wide-ranging speech delivered to a packed audience of students, staff, alumni and members of the public in the Burke Lecture Theatre, Secretary Clinton also spoke about her special connection to Ireland, Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement, her recent presidential campaign and Ireland’s abortion referendum.
Secretary Clinton, who will be awarded with an honorary degree at Trinity later today, said she was “humbled to be receiving an honorary degree from this distinguished university”.
“There’s so much that sets Trinity College apart – your rigorous scholarship, your diversity, your long history of producing some of the world’s most influential leaders, change-makers, and entrepreneurs. At the heart of it all is an understanding that a Trinity education is not simply about learning within the four walls of a classroom – it’s about contributing to society and the world. It’s about encouraging students to think for themselves and take risks – to embrace the spirit embodied by one of your graduates, Samuel Beckett, who summed up his work this way:‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ Those are wise words for anyone to live by.”
Speaking about her special connection to Ireland, Secretary Clinton said Ireland’s friendship with “America goes back to the very beginning”:
“Several of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence were born in Ireland. So were many of the soldiers who fought in our revolution. Later, Irish immigrants came to America to earn a living, get an education, and give their children new opportunities. We often speak of the American Dream, but I think it’s fair to say that the Irish contributed mightily to building that dream for themselves and successive generations of Americans.”
In the course of the public lecture, she also discussed the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit debate:
“The Irish have been on my mind a lot this year – especially in April when we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday agreement…To this day, the Good Friday Agreement stands not only as a framework for shared understanding here in Ireland, but as an example for the rest of the world of what’s possible when citizens come together to demand peace, and work to preserve it. As the Brexit debate rages on, I continue to believe in the value of the European Union, and of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. No matter the outcome of these discussions, Brexit should not be allowed to undermine the peace that people voted, fought, and even died for.”
Secretary Clinton said that the world is at a “global tipping point” and said that no group will be more influential in which direction we choose than young people:
“These last few years in Ireland have been a testament to the power of young people to shape the future – from the 2015 marriage equality referendum, which saw historic youth turnout, to this year’s abortion referendum. No demographic is better positioned to be a force on the side of democracy, progress, and equality. But that outcome is far from inevitable. More than half of the people in the world today are under 30 years old – the largest youth population in history. They will come of age in an era defined by humanitarian crises, global terrorism, natural disasters, and artificial intelligence.”
“You, my friends, are at the centre of this tumult – you and young people across what we used to call the “free world.” Your generation will inherit this world and you are already shaping it in profound ways. It will fall to you and your peers to decide if the trans-Atlantic alliance will survive, if democracy will thrive, if the excesses of capitalism and rampant inequality can be tamed, if we can learn to embrace openness and diversity as sources of strength and unity rather than fear and division. When I look at the remarkable talent and tolerance of your generation, I am filled with confidence that you will be able to answer these questions and build a better world than the one we’re leaving in your lap.”
She cited youth unemployment, gun violence and young people’s disenchantment with democracy as particular challenges for the future.
“Anyone who cares about preserving a democratic future must recognize that we need to do a better job of making democracy work for young people. We cannot simply continue on our current path, and assume things will work themselves out. We need real reforms in government that would make our democratic systems more ethical, transparent, and responsive.”
“I’ve also seen what’s possible when young people participate, and make your voices heard. The Irish abortion referendum was an inspiring sight. People flew home to vote from all over the world. The airports were mini rallies, with cheering and colourful banners greeting travellers as they arrived from as far away from Japan, Australia, and of course America. And on the day of the vote, one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world was overturned, with nearly 87 percent of 18-25 year-olds voting ‘yes’. It was an example of grassroots activism fuelled by young people, and a triumph of the democratic process.”
The event was chaired by Professor Linda Doyle, Dean of Research, Trinity, who said it was on honour to welcome “one of the most famous women in the world” to Trinity. She said Secretary Clinton has served the public with great dedication from the outset of her career and commended her dedication to the Irish peace process.
Citing Secretary Clinton’s comments that she made 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling when she was ran for president of the USA, Professor Hogan said it was a testament to the toughness of the glass ceiling that “18 million cracks weren’t enough”. Secretary Clinton “inspires us to go on making those cracks in the ceiling”, she added.
The lecture was followed by a conversation with the Chancellor of the University, Mary Robinson, during which Secretary Clinton spoke about her own personal resilience, how to improve young people’s participation in the democratic process, the economic empowerment of women, grass roots human rights activism in Northern Ireland and her experience of living in the White House.
This was followed by a Q&A session which featured questions from Sorcha Ryder, President of the Phil, asking for asking for advice for young women who are aspiring to be our next generation’s leaders; Madhav Bhargav, Vice President of the Graduate Students Union, who asked how best to ensure universities remain a welcoming, inclusive and pluralist place of learning; and a question from Trinity student Deirdre Morell from ‘Women for election’ who asked Secretary Clinton for advice to activist women who are considering running for politics.