In fact, Secretary Clinton has long ranked as one of just a handful of women speakers--and even fewer women speakers of today--on the list of the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century. That's due to her speech as First Lady at the United Nations' fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Titled "Women's Rights are Human Rights," which you can hear, see and read by following the link. It included this reminder, which includes women's right to speech:
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely -- and the right to be heard.At the time of her U.N. speech, Clinton had revitalized the White House Council on Women, on which I was honored to serve. Her focus on putting women's issues front and center was widely lauded during her time as First Lady, but this speech--with all the rhetorical flourishes and formalities that you'd expect in a plenary speech before a delegation convened by the U.N.--was perhaps the most visible of those efforts. As I've noted before, when women speakers take the time to address women's issues, there's a special resonance and meaning underscoring their words, and this speech certainly offers a good example of that, causing a major stir at the time of its delivery.
Fast forward to this year and Barnard's 2009 commencement. You can go here to see video and read the text of Secretary Clinton's message to the graduates. This speech, to my mind, shows a bit of what Clinton has learned over the past two decades: She confesses she was startled by the world's reaction to her statement in 1995 that women's rights are human rights, because she took that for granted. In her Barnard speech, she takes the time to unpack the idea that the graduates might've taken for granted, that there's little they can do to change the world, giving them simple steps they can take using "social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you've gone to get a latte or you're going to be running late."
She concludes this speech tying herself, her mother, and her daughter to the graduates as if in one long chain of women makign a difference, a rousing conclusion:
As I was listening to Sarah Besnoff's address and how she was talking about her mother, I had to smile because I often say that in my next life I'm going to come back as my daughter. And I felt a remarkable kinship with Sarah's mother and with other mothers of my generation and those who came before, like my own mother, who was born before women could vote, that no matter how satisfying our lives have been, how we have put together pieces that add up to a whole that is so important to us and has given meaning to this journey we are on, we look at young women and we think to ourselves: This is a future that women in the history of the world have never been able to imagine, that you leave here empowered in a way that women and girls have never been before. It's exciting, but it's daunting. But I know you're up to it.Clinton also should serve as a great example to women speakers, someone whose skills have developed with years of practice and training--something you should consider.
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About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. (Photos of Clinton from Barnard College and television screen grab)