Hillary Clinton speaks at Montclair State, says women 'have to earn it every day'

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There is still much to do in the struggle for women’s rights because formidable interests continue to push society backward, Hillary Clinton said at Montclair State University on Sunday.

The former first lady was at the university to give the keynote address for a celebration hosted by Sen. Bob Menendez for Women’s History Month.

“We have to earn it every day,” Clinton said in the 20-minute speech.

Her remarks were a clarion call to everyone in the 988-seat campus auditorium. She said there is a need for more voices to speak out against “cruelty,” “hate-filled rhetoric” and “mean-spiritedness.”

“Recognizing women’s rights, even enshrining those rights in laws and constitutions, is not the same as achieving full equality,” said Clinton, a former New York senator who later served as the secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

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Clinton noted the so-called Dobbs decision, for example, which overturned Roe v. Wade and took away a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.

“We have to do everything in our power to make sure our daughters and granddaughters won’t live in an America that sees them as second-class citizens,” she added.

Clinton was greeted by a standing ovation, and on more than one occasion, she had to stop talking to allow the cheering to abate.

The 12th annual event, emceed by Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, was held in honor of Menendez’s late mother, Evangelina Menendez, and its purpose was to recognize five inspiring women with awards.

It was a triumph for women of all ages — even for the six Girl Scouts who led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

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“Just as we celebrate 100 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed in Congress, we must redouble our efforts to protect fundamental rights that are under assault,” Menendez said. “Just as we honor five incredible trailblazers making a difference today, we must acknowledge that all of us have a responsibility to create the truly equal America that we deserve.”

The honorees included Lourdes Cortez, the chief executive officer and interim president of North Jersey Federal Credit Union, with branches in Garfield, Newark, Paterson and Totowa.

Under her leadership, the credit union has grown from $168 million in assets to $233 million.

Also receiving awards were Amanda Devecka-Rinear, the executive director of New Jersey Resource Project; Christine Girtain, the state’s “teacher of the year”; A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, the founder of SHE Wins Inc.; and Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.

Menendez, 69, a Democrat in office since January 2006, drew a comparison in his remarks between the honorees and his personal hero: his mother, a Cuban refugee who escaped a dictatorship on the island nation to provide a more promising future for her family.

The crowd at Montclair State University listens to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (not pictured) deliver the keynote address during a women's history month event on Sunday, March 26, 2023.
The crowd at Montclair State University listens to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (not pictured) deliver the keynote address during a women's history month event on Sunday, March 26, 2023.

There were no guarantees of that, Menendez said, but she toiled as a seamstress in a garment factory and “never gave up on realizing the American dream.”

“On a good day,” Menendez said, “she stood maybe 5 feet 4 inches. But rooted in her faith and work ethic, she towered over others with the power of her love.”

Other speakers at the event included the university’s president, Jonathan Koppell, and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat representing the state’s 11th Congressional District and a Montclair resident.

Koppell said the event marked a “banner day” in the history of the university, which was established as a normal school — a training college for teachers — in September 1908.

“The very premise of this institution was to be one that recognized that if we, as a society, do not cultivate the talent, intelligence and resilience of women,” he said, “we would be deeply harmed.”

Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: devencentis@northjersey.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Hillary Clinton visits local university for Women's History Month