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An Evening with a Leader

An Evening with a Leader: Hillary Clinton Talks Women's Rights and Personal History

President Qayoumi welcomes Hillary Clinton to the Event Center (Brandon Chew photo).

Women must dare to compete. Hillary Clinton faced thousands of community members and students in the San Jose State Event Center the evening of April 10, challenging women to break down the glass ceilings and messages projecting self-doubt and perfectionism that often stifle them in the workforce.

Haters and lovers

Despite crowds of more than 75 people from the Constitution party chanting “open your eyes, poor guide,” trying to bring awareness about Clinton and the Benghazi “scandal” in 2012, guests said their excitement to see one of their “favorite” politicians couldn’t be suppressed. The audience ranged from people young and old, male and female, families and singles.

In section 2 of the Event Center, where one had a clear side view of Clinton, sat a father and his son. Ian Sills, 13, said he is an aspiring politician, and he’s always admired the issues on which Clinton has worked. Eric, his father, and a Justice Studies lecturer at SJSU, said he too has always been impressed by her political stance and knew this was one event he wanted to make sure he and his son attended.  “I think she’s been through a lot, gone through a lot, but I think she’s got a lot still to do,” Eric Sills said referring to Clinton’s possible run for the presidency in 2016.

An Evening with a Leader: Hillary Clinton Talks Women's Rights and Personal History

As Clinton walked onto the stage, she greeted the standing, cheering crowd (Brandon Chew photo).

Expectancy of Clinton’s candidacy filled the room as one student, Maddy Ferrito, ‘15 European Studies, said  “it’s about time,” that America has such a promising possibility in a woman candidate for president.

Sitting next to Ferrito was Andrew Johnson, ‘14 American Studies, who said he too is a Clinton supporter and though many politicians don’t boast about their knowledge of Washington, he said he admires that Clinton has been part of the politics in Washington for many years yet doesn’t fall into the “disgusting overtone of the capital right now.” So when he heard that Clinton was speaking, he said he “definitely didn’t want to miss this.”

An intimate chat

The stage was set up in such a way as to resemble an afternoon tea with two chairs and a small table. Larry Stone, Santa Clara County assessor and good friend to the Clinton family, was the Q&A moderator. Though he joked about Clinton making the presidential announcement the audience had been waiting for, he wanted the evening to be one in which the audience would gain more than politics.  “She’s vilified a lot,” Stone said. “I wanted the audience to know Hillary like I know her. She’s a warm, interesting, nice individual.”

The evening began with university President Mohammad Qayoumi introducing Clinton. “So tonight, Madam Secretary, you are an honorary Spartan,” he said. As Clinton walked onto the stage, she greeted the standing, cheering crowd with a smile, waving her hands and saying “thank you” as the audience responded with I love yous.

Competing for your dreams

As the audience gazed at Clinton, she urged the audience to take a look at women’s rights in America and the world. She hit on an issue close to home at SJSU. Though the university has a thriving engineering program and other science and math programs, the percentage of women in those career paths is modest. “Women account for just 11 percent of directors on technology boards. That’s a problem right here in this region,” Clinton said.  As a woman in a male dominated field, she said she’s always had to compete.

An Evening with a Leader: Hillary Clinton Talks Women's Rights and Personal History

“All most women need is a fighting chance to prove themselves,” Clinton said. (Brandon Chew photo)

Recalling her own story, Clinton said “starting from the time when I was a little girl, I always was told by my parents that I had the same opportunities as my brothers. I had a responsibility to make the most of myself and that I would, if I did work hard, be able to do those things in life that were of interest to me.”

She said though women have abilities to succeed in male dominated careers, “All most women need is a fighting chance to prove themselves.”

Great women inspire great women

Stone wanted to emphasize Clinton’s inspirations to be the woman she is today. With two women in mind, Clinton shared how her mother Dorothy Rodham and Eleanor Roosevelt were her instrumental inspirations.

Clinton’s mother was orphaned as a young girl, lived a very poor life but desired to go to high school. She said her mother worked as a young girl taking care of a neighborhood woman’s children. During that time, Rodman’s neighbor told her that if she continued to watch the children, she could go to school. “Her story is not my story but it influenced who I became and it really gave me an appreciation for how important it is that we take care of each other.” Though Rodham was abandoned by her parents and grandparents, Clinton said those who stepped in to care for her mother made all the difference.

The event was no more than an hour and a half, yet audience member Erin Roby said she could’ve listened to Clinton longer and she was “more than impressed by what she said.”

Kelly Patterson, a senior at Palo Alto High School, said she received tickets as a birthday present and Clinton’s speech was “really motivating because she’s such a good role model. I’ve heard her speak before, but in person, it’s so different. It gives you chills.”