Hillary Clinton in St Andrews

Hillary Clinton is a controversial figure around the world. Whether you are a citizen of the United States or a resident of one of the 112 countries she has visited during her tenure as Secretary of State, every person seems to have a different opinion of her life, her politics, and her future. Her visit to the 600th anniversary celebrations as the main speaker had the potential to not just bring huge media attention to the school, but to bring attention to her as a speaker, politician, and potential candidate for the 2016 election. Interesting then that it was so, for lack of a better term, tame.

Image courtesy of Matthew Moran, © 2013, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Matthew Moran, © 2013, some rights reserved.

Ever since her appointment to Secretary of State by Barack Obama (only the third woman to hold this position in history, the 4th highest executive position in the country), Hillary Clinton was setting trends. Inheriting an office with both problems and potential, she was assigned the task of fixing the foreign image of a country dominated by 8 years of the Bush Doctrine, and still mired in two highly unpopular wars. She began a whirlwind campaign, traveling to more countries than any Secretary of State before her, speaking out for liberal ideals such as women’s and homosexual rights, as well as freedom of trade, and placed greater policy emphasis on international cooperation. Her personal projects, such as increasing the presence of safe and reliable cooking stoves in homes throughout the world, won her worldwide praise; and her no-nonsense political attitude earned her respect (if begrudging) from both the right and the left.

Hillary Clinton’s effect on American popular culture was seemingly instantaneous. From her fake Twitter account “Texts from Hillary” in 2010 which, in one short week gained 45,000 followers, to her actual joining of social media in 2013 with over 785,000 followers, the populace seemed to have found in Hillary someone to rally behind. News outlets loved her as well. With her pants suits, sunglasses, Blackberry, and full schedule, she was a welcome instance of government in active operation as opposed to the increasingly deadlocked and depressing stories emanating from Capitol Hill. There was even a TV mini series on the USA cable network called “Political Animals” written (and taking liberties) to dramatise her life and possibly endear her to a larger audience unaware of the great personal strain she has had to endure throughout her political and personal life.

In keeping with her controversial and famous nature, the lead up to her visit to St. Andrews can only be described as frantic. Hate mail from a London-based anti-abortion group called the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children flooded the Principal’s inbox, claiming that it would be abhorrent to invite someone to speak at such a prestigious event who, to quote one American pro-life lobbyist “has no conscience.” Every student news publication sought an interview with her in an attempt to get the inside scoop to her future plans. People crowded outside of Forgan’s attempting to catch a picture or an autograph from the woman who has put her own mark on American foreign policy. The day of the ceremony, cameramen and reporters lined the streets and crowded in front of the live stream of her speech.

Yet when she walked out the doors of the Martyr’s Church in step with Louise Richardson and down the street towards Younger Hall, this writer was struck by a very different feeling entirely. If any of you have been to any talk by a famous political figure in St. Andrews, there have always been protestors. Whether they be from the left or right, students usually take to the streets to voice an opinion. However, in this instance, for the person who was for four years the voice of American foreign policy, there was not a single protestor. Everyone was smiling, cheering, and waving at her as she walked by, and she took great care to wave to or personally greet as many students as possible. The entire occasion, rather than being dominated by her presence, was mindful of the atmosphere and the weight of the occasion. Her speech, rather than focusing on any particular issue of the day, focused instead on the implications of academia on society, with her stating that, “politics should not influence or inhibit the creative questioning necessary to academic discovery.”

For this writer, this occasion was more welcome than any incendiary or profound remarks she could have given in her address; and speaks to the true power and potential that is Hillary Clinton. There’s a saying that personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open. No doubt it was Hillary’s celebrity and stature that opened the door for her to be the highlight of the 600th Anniversary, but it was the way in which she connected with students, often in one-on-one encounters, that will keep the proverbial door (and not just to St Andrews) open for her.  If the impression she made on the student body is anything to go by, the youth vote, which eluded Hillary in favour of now-president Obama in the 2008 primaries, is hers to take, should she seek it in 2016. Hillary Clinton, through her leadership and character, has changed the way that the world views Americans, and through the anecdotal lens of a reporter standing in Sallies Quad, I can say she won some hearts and minds in Scotland too.

Editor’s Note: Matthew Moran contributed to this article, and covered the event for the Foreign Affairs Review alongside the author.

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