Wellesley College Students Anticipate Results Of Historic Election

Nov 8, 2016
Originally published on November 8, 2016 8:27 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This election is special for people at Wellesley College in suburban Massachusetts. The all-women's school has rallied around a famous graduate who could become the first female president of the United States. NPR's Tovia Smith visited Hillary Clinton's alma mater.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Nearly 50 years after she graduated from Wellesley, she's still the big woman on campus. Everywhere are pant-suited Hillary action figures, what-would-Hillary-do T-shirts, Madam-President coffee mugs and framed memorabilia.

IRENE MATA: So here we have her thesis that she wrote entitled "There Is Only The Fight."

SMITH: How apt.

MATA: It's so foretelling.

SMITH: Wellesley Professor Irene Mata says she's elated that tonight could be a giant leap for womankind.

MATA: It's a really big deal. For my generation, that wasn't even something we dreamed about.

MARTHA STEARNS: It gives me goosebumps.

SMITH: Alumna Martha Stearns recalls being inspired by her then-classmate, Hillary Rodham, who was already making waves as a campus activist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: ...Practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.

STEARNS: I voted for her for student council president. And now I get to vote for her for president of the United States. And it's about time.

SMITH: Stearns is one of thousands of alum gathering tonight at Wellesley for what they hope will be an historic celebration.

Are you guys actually going to wear pant suits? That's hilarious.

Along with faculty and students.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Guys, I'm so excited.

STEARNS: It will be a very emotional place to be. I mean, there is the solidarity. There is a sisterhood. It's very validating for our lives.

SMITH: But validation is less an issue for current Wellesley students. Jenna Sjogren says she grew up expecting a woman president. For her, it's a given that women can do anything. Still, she says, it would be a poignant moment.

JENNA SJOGREN: We'll all be sobbing.

SMITH: I'm sure.

SJOGREN: Exactly (laughter).

SMITH: But to be clear, these students say gender's not the only or even the top reason they're for Clinton.

NATALIE MENDENHALL: She's just qualified.

SMITH: That senior Natalie Mendenhall.

MENDENHALL: At the end of the day, it's about what these candidates are going to do. And I think, specifically for, like, communities of color, it's not so much that a woman is being elected. But it's just, like, my civil liberties are going to continue to be protected.

SMITH: These students say they're under no illusions that a Clinton win would magically erase the misogyny and sexism exposed in this campaign. Anna Vargas says she is bracing for a backlash.

ANNA VARGAS: When she shatters that glass ceiling, the shards from the glass ceiling, I think, are going to kind of rain down and hit her a bit.

SMITH: Some worry it'll all discourage other women from running. But Sjogren says it's galvanizing her.

SJOGREN: It's a little early to announce my candidacy. But see you all in the primary in - what is it going to be? 2040?

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.