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Classmate recalls Clinton, politically astute at 20
[PHILADELPHIA] Many of Hillary Clinton's university classmates have traveled to Philadelphia to witness her historic Democratic presidential nomination, including Nancy Wanderer, who recounts how the candidate caught the political bug at Wellesley in the 1960s.
Mrs Clinton was elected student body president at the prestigious all-women's college near Boston in 1968.
In the years since, she has regularly attended class reunions, providing her former classmates a privileged peek into the development of the woman who seeks to make history as the 45th president of the United States.
Prof Wanderer and Mrs Clinton spent four years at the school and graduated in 1969. Today, Prof Wanderer is 68 and a professor emerita of law at the University of Maine.
She is also a delegate to this week's Democratic National Convention, where she took questions from AFP.
Q: Was Clinton politically active in her early years at Wellesley?
A: "Yes, she was. She came with a very strong service orientation, that she attributes to her Methodist upbringing. Wellesley's motto, 'Non Ministrari sed Ministrare', means 'Not to be ministered unto but to minister,' and she took it very, very seriously.
"We were all very close to the five African-American students (seeking) to educate the Wellesley admission office and administration about getting more minority students on campus. In those days, they put roommates together by race and religion. That was a really important endeavor and Hillary was really involved in it in a supportive way.
"Her reputation was as very serious - not humourless, but a serious person who was not there for... fraternity parties and having a lot of drinking."
Q: With the Vietnam war raging, 1968 was a turbulent, even violent, year on many campuses. What was Clinton's political philosophy?
A: "Her brand of politics was pretty close to mine at that time. She wanted to make the world a better place, whether that was Wellesley or the whole world.
"At Wellesley, she wanted to respond to the kinds of complaints that students had about restrictive social rules, or too many required courses.
"She was also very concerned about civil rights. She tutored a black student in Roxbury. That's typical of Hillary: she isn't just going around and complaining about it, she's working in the community.
"She was the one that I think most people imagine standing up at a rally or a protest, and leading it, and speaking and calling on people to speak.
"She was a constructive leader, not a destructive leader... Hillary helped to keep it from being that kind of protest. No taking over of classrooms or blowing up bombs."
Q: How did you see Clinton's public persona evolving over the years since she was the first lady of Arkansas?
A: "Up until Arkansas, everything had gone well. She was just herself, she wore her hair the way she wanted, she wore her glasses, and she called herself Hillary Rodham.
"And then when Bill was elected governor (in 1978), there began to be this criticism of her, every little thing about her. How she looked, the fact that she didn't take her married name.
"I think to help him out for his career... she dyed her hair blonde, she lost a lot of weight, she got contact lenses, she dressed in a much more feminine way.
"Once she got to the White House (in 1993), I think she still wanted to be herself. She got that assignment on health care, she looked more like the old Hillary I knew, she had a job to do.
"But they just walloped her with it. Then they started to go after the two of them with Whitewater, there was Vince Foster (a lawyer and friend who later committed suicide). That's when she began to close down and become very wary of this type of scrutiny.
"I think that's been her biggest problem ever since. She's afraid to just open up and be honest about things, because over the years she's learned that it just gets twisted and turned against her. So her first instinct is to pull back and to not be so open. She's an introvert."