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She Persisted: Chelsea Clinton Shares Stories from Children's Book on Amazing Women

Chelsea Clinton, She Persisted BookAuthor Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, answers a question about her children's book Thursday at an event in Shiley Theatre.

“It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husband’s permission to get a passport or even to leave the house. And all over the world, girls are more likely to be told to be quiet, to sit down, to have smaller dreams. Don’t listen to those voices. These thirteen women from across the world didn’t. They persisted.” — Chelsea Clinton, author, She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History.

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was asked pointed questions by some of the most influential audience members sitting inside a sold-out Shiley Theatre on Thursday evening.

“How have you persisted?” The voice belonged to a pre-teen girl. Her question was taken respectfully and seriously by Clinton, who spent the entire program at the University of San Diego willing to be vulnerable.

“I was bullied a lot,” said Clinton in a way that seemingly transported the now 38-year-old married and mother of two and holder of four academic degrees, back to when she was joked about by radio and television shows simply for being a young girl thrust into the spotlight as a part of the nation’s First Family and living in the White House as early as age 12.

She recalled hurtful comments spoken by conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and skits on Saturday Night Live that she tried to take in stride.

“I was surprised by it the first time it happened, but then I just knew something was fundamentally wrong when adults are the ones who do it and why they would say awful things about a seventh-grader,” she said. “But then the kids at school would repeat it.”

Clinton understands the privilege she’s had for much of her life, but her work with the Clinton Foundation as vice chair, serving on a number of important boards, teaching at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and now for the last several years authoring multiple books, she’s much more concerned about empowering the next generations as leaders, to be healthy and, best of all, persist.

A collaboration between Warwick’s Books in La Jolla, USD’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Humanities Center, brought Clinton to USD to provide a reading of her 2018 book, She Persisted Around the World, a companion to 2017’s She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. She followed with a Q&A that was meant for children in the audience to ask her questions and then signed everyone's book who attended.

The initial seed for the She Persisted book concept was inspired by a political figure not named Hillary Rodham Clinton, who sought to become the first female President of the United States in 2016. Instead, it was Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) who inspired the book title. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) cut off a speech Warren was giving during the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. She was sharing a letter written by civil rights activist Coretta Scott King and was interrupted and chastised. The phrase, “nevertheless, she persisted,” has become a popular feminist battle cry.

Individually, the books provide the targeted younger readers a brief synopsis about amazing women who have not backed down, have continued in pursuit of their dreams and have been successful in a multitude of ways.

“The book is deeply personal to me,” Clinton said. She was asked who she’d add to the book, but noted that would be as hard as to picking a favorite child. “There are just so many women in the world that we’ve not yet heard of and we got hundreds of suggestions.”

The Women Around the World cohort consists of: Marie Curie; Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz; Viola Desmond; Sissi Lima do Amor; Leymah Gbowee; Caroline Herschel; Wangari Maathai; Aisha Rateb; J.K. Rowling, Kate Sheppard, Yuan Yuan Tan, Mary Verghese and Malala Yousafzai.

The 13 American Women Who Changed the World are: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey and Sonia Sotomayor.

While Chelsea Clinton’s mother is not featured in the American-focused book, instead relegated to a cameo appearance in the illustrated work done by Alexandra Boiger, many of the questions asked by the children in the audience pointed to the bond between her and her mother.

“I’m so thankful,” said Chelsea, “And now, one of the great gifts my kids have given me is seeing both of my parents as grandparents because it gives me a window clearly into how they were with me when I was very small.”

Reading books has long been one of Clinton’s passions in life. She answered multiple questions about books, including her affinity for books she read growing up like Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew mysteries and the Paper Bag Princess.

Clinton’s own authored books have been coming swiftly since 2015’s It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going! In 2017, her second book released was Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? In 2018, Clinton also published Start Now! You Can Make a Difference. Later this year, she’ll have another children’s picture book called Don’t Let Them Disappear, which focuses on endangered animals and what can be done to save them.

Each book provides a source of inspiration, empowerment to act and to provide a message and the knowledge that everyone, girls, women and boys and men, can make a difference and make the world a better place. How? Persistence.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Clinton's appearance is part of the College of Arts and Sciences and Warwick's Books author series. There are several more authors coming to USD in the 2019 Spring Semester. The next one is Marlon Jones, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre.

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