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Hillary Clinton defends America’s role as world leader during Global Leaders address

By Mark Walden on October 25, 2013
Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst greets Hillary Rodham Clinton just before her address at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst greets Hillary Rodham Clinton just before her address at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the latest lecture in the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate tonight in Sanford Field House. More than 5,000 students, parents, alumni, and friends attended the event, which is the highlight of Family Weekend.

It was a warm welcome-back for Clinton, who first visited the university in 2004 to help launch the Upstate Institute. “I couldn’t let 2013 go into the history books without visiting Colgate,” she said. “After all, this is probably the only place in the country where 13 is actually a lucky number.”

Of the university’s 13 founders, Clinton said, “they must have done something right, because Colgate has become one of the most dynamic centers of higher learning in our nation.”

Colgate’s role as a regional and international leader served as a springboard for Clinton’s defense of American leadership in general. In an age when many question the country’s ability to maintain its stature on the world stage, Clinton took a different view:

“With all the challenges we face at home and abroad, our country is well-positioned to rise to any of them,” she said. “Even after a long decade of war and financial crisis, America is still the indispensable nation.”

Clinton argued that proof lies in the very changes that are causing a reevaluation of America’s status. Each one — including the rise of China as a global power, democracy movements in the Middle East, and recent shifts in energy production — favor America’s strength for creativity and relationship-building.

“We will have to lead in new ways if we want to maintain our role in the world,” she said, “but the shifting global landscape makes American leadership more necessary, not less.”

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst introduces Hillary Rodham Clinton to a huge crowd at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst introduces Hillary Rodham Clinton to a huge crowd at Sanford Field House. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

She further noted that the United States must also become a nation of ideas again. It must leave behind the partisan politics that recently shut down government and threatened financial default. “It’s not only how that makes us feel here at home,” she said. “The entire world watches.”

Teacher Jane Kunzman, whose husband, Steve ’77, and daughter Molly ’12 attended the lecture with her, said Clinton’s comments about citizenship especially resonated with her. It was a message she would bring back to her students at a New Jersey school.

“I liked what she said about being problem-solvers, how we can prepare for the future by tapping into the creativity and innovation of our young people,” Kunzman said.

After her address, Clinton fielded questions from Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst. The conversation moved from the Congo to Syria, foreign surveillance to cyberwarfare. Of the government shutdown, Clinton pointed out that President Barack Obama followed the same course as her husband when dealing with a hostile opposition. “No president can give in to that kind of threatening behavior,” she said.

Clinton’s exchange with Herbst was her second Q&A of the evening. Before her speech, she met with several dozen students to answer their questions about an array of issues. Led by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks, undergraduates rose to ask questions about drone strikes in Pakistan, the 2016 primary race, the Clinton Foundation, hydrofracking, and simply being a woman in a professional environment that is dominated by men.

“It’s memorable and it’s inspirational,” said Maxine Kerschner P’07’09, whose leadership support named the Global Leaders program. “Thanks to this series, a new generation of diplomats, policymakers, and activists can meet and draw energy from those who are shaping the geopolitical landscape.”

CNN, The Daily Beast, and several local news organizations were on hand to cover Clinton’s address, which still can be viewed here. The media’s presence on campus further demonstrated the reach of the Global Leaders series.

Launched in 2007 and sponsored by Colgate’s Parents’ and Grandparents’ Fund, it has brought a number of influential speakers to campus, including President Bill Clinton; Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain; Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico; and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

“Is it so odd to think that a sitting president might shake the hand of a future president at an event like this?” Kerschner asked the audience. “Our guest tonight can confirm that stranger things have happened.”


  • Sara Halpern said:

    I must say that the speech wasn’t what I had in mind. This is Hillary Clinton, the woman who broke the glass ceiling. She came into my life with her autobiography that she published back in 2003 or 2004. Her successes and trials as a female leader in a male-dominated world truly inspired me to stand up and take chances. As a guest in the audience, I was hoping for a reflection on her multiple roles as a woman involved in (messy) Washington politics and what men and women can learn from working with women in commanding positions. Needless to say, I felt indifferent during the whole lecture. (However, I am glad to see that only a dozen students got to hear what I wanted to hear as mentioned in the above article.)

    It struck me after I left Sanford House that Hillary Clinton was the FIRST woman to speak in this Global Leaders series and we did not take the moment to celebrate or acknowledge that. Hillary was the 9th (or 10th) speaker and the first woman to be invited. Is that the reflection of the world that we are living in today? Is this the way to encourage Colgate female students to take more leadership on and off campus and in the “Real World”? Is this the way for men to treat women, that only exceptional women like Hillary can make it to the top? As much as I’d like to say, I hope not but this big picture view here seems to suggest that.

    Do better next time, Colgate. Please bring in more female leaders and increase the proportion of men and women to show the reality (in this case, invite 3 more to get about 20% by the time we hit our 20th speaker) and then move towards total equality between men and women. This is a challenge to see if Colgate can find enough leading women to provide that gender equality picture for future generations of students.

  • Steve Solomon '76, MAT '78 said:

    We are truly fortunate to have benefactors such as the Kerschner family supporting a program which welcomed back to campus Hillary Clinton. The occasion once again underscores Colgate’s achievements and ambitions as a world class liberal arts university.

    Thank you!