Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hillary at Wellesley

 For too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.
--Hillary Rodham, Wellesley, Address to the Class of 1969, at her graduation

Sitting in the audience when Hillary Rodham rose to deliver her address to graduating seniors in 1969 was a woman who I had known since I was 13 years old. Her name was Kristie Anne Hansen, and she had been my heart throb, until we both left Bethesda in 1965 to go to off to college.

In 1964, I had run against Kristie for president of the student government and there was a big assembly of the whole school in the field house. I had written my speech with lots of references to drinking beer and I tried to appeal to the hoi polloi, the guys I knew from the locker rooms, the varsities, the future frat boys and sorority girls. I was not among the crowd that was winning, but I was doing my best impression of that, not very successfully.
 I was going low. Kristie went high. 
She went directly at the biggest problem her candidacy had: She was a girl running for the office of president. Girls ran for secretary, sometimes for treasurer, but never president. "But why should a girl not be president?" Kristie asked the stunned audience. "If that girl has been captain of the cheerleaders, has worked hard in the Montgomery County student government?" She went on to list all the things a high school girl could do, which, admittedly was not much, but she was really saying, girls should be taken seriously. 
By the time she was finished, I was ready to vote for her. There were two boys running and I don't remember the other boy's speech or my own, but I remember Kristie's. She was nervy and bold.

She beat me and the other guy running: I'm guessing it was a landslide.

But by the time Kristie found herself listening to Hillary Rodham that day in 1969, much had changed. The war in Vietnam had gained full steam. Gloria Steinem had caught the public's attention. Martin Luther King had delivered his speech on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and had been slain in Memphis. "Hair" had hit Broadway.  Bob Dylan had risen. Bob Dylan wouldn't have cared much about who won a high school election or what college she went to. Bob spoke of that debutante who knows what you need, but not what you want.  In my mind, Kristie faded into that class of debutantes and chosen people who were just distant memories in a world which no longer existed.

The first time I heard "Like A Rolling Stone." I was sitting in a lifeguard chair at Old Farm swimming pool with my transistor radio plugged into my ear and just about fell out of the chair. "Ah, you went to the finest school alright, Miss Lonely, but you know you only used to get juiced in it."  And I thought of Kristie. She had been on top, just like the girl in the song, and I wondered if she had wound up on the street , once she had to leave the Promised Land of elite colleges. I suspected nobody had ever taught her how to live out on the street.

Actually,  I hadn't heard from her or much about her, after high school.  I only learned about her indirectly, when I read Richard Holbrooke's eulogy of Kurt Schork. I had  heard Kristie  married Kurt Schork, who had got a Rhodes scholarship but while they were  still at Oxford, the marriage fell apart and I imagined Kristie without a home, no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. 

Kurt later became a war correspondent, covered Sarajevo and was killed in Sierra Leone. He was a nervy, bold guy, but that was his undoing. 

In high school, everyone said Kristie Hansen would be the first woman President of the United States.  They thought she deserved to be that.

I don't know what happened to her. I can't find her on Wikipedia. I heard she went to law school and went back to Washington to work in the government on student loans or something. I saw her at a high school reunion, but we never talked. 

There must have been a lot of girls like her at Wellesley. Bright stars, the creme de la creme. The debutante parade, all the girls who just wanted to be on the side that's winning. I used to be among that crowd. It was positively Fourth Street.

But one of those women that I know of...Hillary Rodham, seemed to come out on the other side, and do okay.

No comments:

Post a Comment