Like Hillary Clinton, I graduated from Swansea University in 2017, but that’s not all we have in common. We both have Welsh ancestry and we share a name, though mine is spelt properly (obviously). When it was announced that Hillary Clinton would be receiving an honorary degree from Swansea and delivering a speech, I applied for a press pass in the off-chance I might get one so early on in my career.
To my surprise, this past weekend I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the commemoration ceremony as a member of the press. I returned to my alma mater and experienced my first *real* press room. While the site I was writing for didn’t end up using my piece (ah, freelance life!) I got to catch up with friends and colleagues still in Swansea, experience a major landmark in the university’s history and find myself in a strange void, somewhere between student journalism and the real thing. Update: my article didn’t get published on the site because it in fact got published in print! Read it here and see if you can spot the irony in the byline…
As I scrawled my not-yet-mastered shorthand during Hillary’s speech I couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic. I had graduated on the same stage just three months earlier. A stage in a hall on a campus with which I had almost no sentimental attachment. My time at Swansea was spent on Singleton Campus and I had groaned on announcement that we had to graduate on the shiny, new Bay Campus. Now however, I have a genuine memory associated with the Great Hall on Bay Campus. I got to work independently with old and new colleagues, while watching a hero deliver an important speech on children’s rights that will also give my university recognition that will undoubtedly help struggling graduates like myself.
My family have often wondered about the origin my burning advocacy for women’s rights. I have always and will always stay steadfast in saying that it comes from my mum. During Hillary Clinton’s speech however, I started to wonder if the former Secretary of State had something to do with it too. While my parents insist I’m named after a (rather depressing) Beaches character and my mother’s confidence in having ‘never met a stupid Hilary,’ I think I grew up associating my name with a very different source. One month and one day after I was born and named Hilary, the other Hillary delivered her monumental speech on women’s rights in Beijing. From then on, my name was associated with advocacy of women’s rights as human rights. While most of my friends associated my name with Hilary Duff and Hilary Swank, I think I must’ve been listening to the radio on 5 September 1995, because now I think about it, the only other Hilary I knew as a young child was Hillary Clinton. I mentioned this to my mum this afternoon and she spoke of how when she told the nurse my name the reply was ‘is that with two Ls like Hillary Rodham?’
In her speech at Swansea Hillary spoke of how things had almost come ‘full circle’ with her return to Wales, where her ancestors began. Returning to Swansea not as a student but as a professional human being (boohoo!), things felt remarkably full circle for me too. What’s more, Hillary Clinton’s speech was about the children’s rights, where she drew attention to the fact that children are not simply ‘passive observers’ of what adults are up to. She spoke mostly of sad, negative examples of where that foolish assumption shows itself, but I think I have a slightly happier example of it. I grew up with a woman fighting for the rights of women, saying things that were revolutionary at the time. Luckily for me, she happened to share my name which perhaps made me listen a little closer. Hillary Clinton is one of many empowered women that I’ve been able to look up to, but one I didn’t full appreciate until now.
So thank you Hillary Clinton, for giving me a genuine connection to Swansea University’s Bay Campus, God know’s not many Singleton students can say they have one. And thank you for saving it until after I graduated. I never expected a connection to the campus of my graduation to be conjured up after the fact, but I think you’ve given me some much needed self awareness in this period of Graduate Blues. An awareness of what my own name is starting to mean to me, an awareness of my sudden place in the professional world and an awareness of the importance and impact of role models on children. While it took me until your speech to realise it, you have undoubtedly influenced the course of my life so far, all because I was once a child paying attention to what adults were saying and doing.