Hillary Clinton has failed, in a big way, on an international stage. In her first bid for the presidency, she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, then a young Senator from Illinois. In her second attempt, she became the first female nominee for a major political party before losing to Donald Trump.
But less than two years later, a good-humored and confident Clinton took the stage at Yale University’s Senior Class Day ceremony and delivered an address to the class of 2018. She shared what she’s learned about failure and resilience—lessons apt not only for those about to receive their degrees and embark on their post-collegiate lives, but also for anyone at any stage of their careers.
“Most of all, you’ve demonstrated resilience,” Clinton told the graduating class. “That’s a word that’s been on my mind a lot recently.” She went on to quote one of her personal heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You’re able to say to yourself, ‘I’ve lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
And then she explained the significance of that message:
That’s resilience, and it’s so important. Because everyone, everyone gets knocked down. What matters is whether you get back up and keep going. This may be hard for a group of Yale soon-to-be graduates to accept. But yes, you will make mistakes in life. You will even fail. It happens to all of us no matter how qualified or capable we are, take it from me.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. She recalled how difficult the first few months after the 2016 election were, and how she coped—with long walks in the woods, Chardonnay, yoga, and alternate nostril breathing.
And it doesn’t mean the sting of failure disappears. “Let me just get this out of the way: No, I’m not over it. I still think about the 2016 election. I still regret the mistakes I made,” she said. But she emphasized that she can learn from her mistakes and move forward. Just as you can learn from the most difficult moments, missteps, and defeats you suffer in your career.
“Personal resilience is important, but it’s not the only form of resilience we need right now. We also need community resilience,” she said. We need “to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves and to return to rational debate; to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable,” she added. And when we judge our leaders, “we can’t just ask, ‘Am I better off than I was two years or four years ago?’ We have to ask, ‘Are we all better off?’”
She may have been speaking about repairing deep fissures in American society, but the same goes on a smaller scale within companies and organizations. Resilience on a community level means you should strive to find common ground and practice civil discourse at work, stand up for your colleagues as well as for yourself, and try to make things better for everyone even when times are tough and even when you’ve already failed once or twice. Especially then.
Standing there in front of the graduating seniors, cracking jokes about her emails—“if you thought my emails were scandalous you should hear my singing voice,” she said—and her epic loss, Clinton did more than tell them about resilience. She showed them what it looks like.
Want to watch some more inspiring commencement speeches? Check out:
- Oprah’s words of wisdom to the class of 2018 at USC Annenberg.
- Apple’s CEO Tim Cook at Duke University talking about speaking up at work.
- L.L. Bean’s CEO and President Stephen Smith explaining the importance of slowing down in your career.
Photo of Hillary Clinton speaking to Yale's class of 2018 courtesy of Yale University/YouTube.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author