They were two older women, confessing, confiding, and offering advice to a group of younger women. The conversation felt like a late-night, kitchen-table chat between a mother and daughter - the sort that happens when there are no males around.
What made the tone unusual was that the two women were Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the setting was the 125th anniversary conference at Wellesley College in Massachusetts last Friday and Saturday. The younger women, of course, were a capacity crowd of students at Wellesley - the elite, female, liberal-arts school with a reputation for churning out more high-powered women than Silicon Valley does startups.
Senator Clinton and Ms. Albright, both of Wellesley (class of '69 and '59, respectively), capped off an afternoon of panel discussions by fellow alumnae. Graduates as diverse as a Buddhist monk and a stand-up comedian traced their achievements to four contemplative years under the tall pines of Lake Waban.
With self-deprecating humor and clear camaraderie, Clinton and Albright recalled their winding roads to success and urged future graduates to be supportive of one another in their efforts to find a balance between work and family.
"There will be many unintended consequences of the decisions you make," Clinton said, to laughs from the audience. "I am a living example of that."
The speakers also stressed the college ties that bind. Clinton pointed out that four alumnae work in her Senate office. Albright says her Wellesley network was key in finding her way to the State Department.
But they both placed their alma mater at the center of a broader continuum representing women's changing role in society. Albright recalled the laptop-esque clicking of knitting needles in her classes at Wellesley and the odd juxtaposition of women making socks for their boyfriends as they daydreamed of becoming world-class leaders.
Said Clinton: "Looking back at the history of this college is like looking back at the history of women."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor