Hillary Rodham Clinton was at UCLA Wednesday to deliver the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership and to accept UCLA's highest honor in front of a packed Royce Hall.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block presented Clinton with the UCLA Medal. "I, along with millions of others in the United States and around the world, have been inspired by [Clinton's] dedicated leadership, her groundbreaking achievements and her life-long commitment to enlightened public service," he said.
The former secretary of state and senator spoke about the importance of UCLA and other universities in preparing students for the job market and inspiring creative solutions to society's biggest problems.
"A great university like this one is on the front lines of preparing America's young people," Clinton said. "Some people might want to come [to UCLA] because the Internet was born here nearly half a century ago. But they might want to come because they want to help reinvent our economy for the 21st century, and I think that's a great reflection for the leadership and the student body of this university."
She said that UCLA students can play an important role in helping the economy grow through innovation, creativity and advocacy.
"Think hard about how to respect and honor the dignity of every person — and central to that is how to create jobs that will give people that sense of dignity," Clinton said. "I hope that you'll keep reaching out to help more young people, and others, climb into the circle of opportunity, equality and prosperity."
Clinton also spoke about the current political turmoil in Ukraine.
"I support the administration's call for Russia to respect its obligations and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine," Clinton said. "In fact, all parties should avoid steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation at this delicate time. I welcome the Ukrainian parliament's decision to establish a new government that now must work to unite all of the Ukrainian people and restore order and stability to the country."
She also expressed her hope that Ukraine could eventually hold democratic elections and shared her insights about negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I know we are dealing with a tough guy with a thin skin," she said. "I know that his political vision is a greater Russia. I said when I was still secretary that his goal is to re-Sovietize Russia's periphery, but in the process he is squandering the potential of such a great nation — the nation of Russia — and threatening instability and even the peace of Europe."
Turning her attention to domestic issues, the former first lady referred to the nation's youth employment "crisis" and the challenges young people face in finding good jobs and achieving economic security.
"Despite the progress we've made recovering from the global recession, nearly 16 million young Americans are both out of work and out of school," Clinton said. "Millions more are underemployed, working jobs that don't provide ladders of opportunity or lead to fulfilling careers."
Clinton also said that millennials, those born from the early 1980s to about 2000, are more likely to work for minimum wage and benefit less from union membership. And, she asserted, the obstacles are even greater for African-American men and Hispanics.
"If you don't have a college degree or didn't graduate from high school, most doors just aren't open no matter how hard you knock" she said.
The third annual Luskin lecture was also streamed live to an audience in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. The program, established in 2011 with the support of longtime donors Meyer and Renee Luskin, enables the College of Letters and Science to bring world leaders to campus to stimulate dialogue on pressing national and global issues among scholars and the Los Angeles community. Former President Bill Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke in previous years.
"We know that you said you're not making any decision about the future until the end of the year, so we won't talk about that, but I'm just saying you should feel free to make any surprise announcement," Vavreck joked.
Clinton did share her views on the possibility of a woman being elected president, the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality — and offered UCLA students some thoughtful advice.
"I really want you to believe that you can change the world, and be confident that you have a role to play and a contribution to make," Clinton said. "I think it's important while you're here … to expose yourself to as many different kinds of people, opportunities, course work, professors; really expand your horizons so that you have as clear an idea as possible about what you really want to do and where you want to make a difference in the world."