Teen Vogue:
Hillary Clinton & 21 u 21 Cover Story

What would you tell the first female pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee for a major party if you could? Five trail­blaz­ing tal­ents from this year’s 21 Under 21 list sat down with Hillary Clinton to tackle the issues facing women and girls around the world.

Hunter Schafer, Mari Copeny, Muzoon Almellehan, Nadya Okamoto, and Simone Askew. These are just a few of the excep­tional indi­vid­u­als on Teen Vogue’s annual list of the young women and femmes who are chang­ing the world — all under the age of 21. Taking action in STEM, the arts, social activism, and beyond, they are the brains, voices, and vision­ar­ies whose bril­liance is help­ing to shape our future for the better.

Eighteen-year-old Hunter Schafer has made waves both in the court­room and on the runway. As a trans model and activist, she’s walked for some of fashion’s most high-pro­file design­ers while also advo­cat­ing on behalf of LGBTQ youth. In 2016, she served as a plain­tiff in a law­suit against the dis­crim­i­na­tory bath­room bill HB2 in her home state of North Carolina.
At 20, Simone Askew has already made his­tory. Earlier this year, she became the first African-American woman to be named first cap­tain of the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the high­est posi­tion in the cadet chain of com­mand.

Harvard sopho­more Nadya Okamoto is work­ing to nor­mal­ize the con­ver­sa­tion around peri­ods, and through her non­profit orga­ni­za­tion, Period, she pro­vides men­strual prod­ucts to those in need. But that’s not all. At press time, the 19-year-old was also run­ning for city coun­cil in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after decid­ing the best way to effect the change she wanted to see in gov­ern­ment was to be the change.

In 2016, then pres­i­dent Barack Obama vis­ited Flint, Michigan, at the request of Mari Copeny. The pint-size activist, now 10, wanted to draw atten­tion to her hometown’s water crisis and went on to become the youngest Women’s March youth ambas­sador, the national youth ambas­sador for the People’s Climate March, and youth ambas­sador for Equality for Her, prov­ing that no voice is too small.

After flee­ing Syria’s civil war and spend­ing nearly three years in Jordanian refugee camps, 19-year-old Muzoon Almellehan set­tled in the U.K. and decided to ded­i­cate her life to advo­cat­ing for girls’ edu­ca­tion. She has trav­eled the world on behalf of her cause, and this year she became the youngest-ever good­will ambas­sador as well as the first with offi­cial refugee status.
Here, in an inti­mate con­ver­sa­tion with Hillary Clinton, these five young game chang­ers dis­cuss every­thing from how more women can break into pol­i­tics to the ongo­ing fight for female equal­ity.

MARI COPENY: How did you know when you had found your pur­pose? Was there a moment? Did you have other child­hood dreams?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I had a lot of dreams when I was a child, but I think I found my pur­pose pretty early, which was to help other people in my com­mu­nity and make my world a better place. When I was little, I thought, Well, maybe I’ll be a reporter, a jour­nal­ist, a doctor. I ended up becom­ing a lawyer. And I never stopped think­ing about what I could do to give back to people. I think that’s the best way to have a mean­ing­ful life.

NADYA OKAMOTO: In the U.S., less than 20 per­cent of [elected con­gres­sional] posi­tions are held by women. And when it comes to advo­cat­ing and fight­ing for progress — whether it be repro­duc­tive rights, equal pay, or talk­ing about men­stru­a­tion — how do you approach work­ing for that progress in a male-dom­i­nated space?

HRC: There’s that great line by Shirley Chisholm, who ran for pres­i­dent back in the 1970s: If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a fold­ing chair.” And that can be in terms of activism, build­ing a plat­form for your­self, or in public ser­vice, gov­ern­ment, or run­ning for office. And there’s no sub­sti­tute for being pre­pared, know­ing what you want to say, and being brave enough to say it. It can be ground­break­ing, and you might receive back­lash — as I know you have online — but you just have to keep per­se­ver­ing.

SIMONE ASKEW: We had a women’s equal­ity lunch at West Point a couple of weeks ago, and the speaker, in a very pos­i­tive light, noted that women are required to per­form twice as well as men for half of the credit. How do you acknowl­edge that but also bal­ance the value of non­bi­o­log­i­cal ideals and capa­bil­i­ties when you are a leader?

HRC: This is the high­est, hard­est bal­anc­ing act, Simone. I just fin­ished writ­ing a book about my life, but in par­tic­u­lar my expe­ri­ences in the 2016 cam­paign. In it I said I thought it mat­tered if we were pre-pared. And I worked really hard to pre­pare for the three debates because tens of mil­lions of people were watch­ing us. And one of the reporters who judged me as having won the debates actu­ally said, She seemed too pre­pared.” And I thought to myself, How do you seem to be too pre­pared to do the hard­est job in the world? I want to under­score the impor­tance of prepa­ra­tion and hard work. There’s no sub­sti­tute for that. But I want us to get to a point where women are judged fairly and equally. You don’t have to be twice as good to do the job. You have to be good enough to do that job. Society has to rec­og­nize that we are losing a lot of great talent in elected office, in the mil­i­tary, in busi­ness, in every walk of life, because women are made to feel that they aren’t good enough.

HUNTER SCHAFER: I want to address how public schools in America are con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle with accom­mo­dat­ing the bath­room needs of gender-non­con­form­ing and trans young people. This was made evi­dent in my home state of North Carolina when they passed the bath­room bill, House Bill 2. How can we as a soci­ety and even on insti­tu­tional levels ensure the safety and com­fort of gender-non­con­form­ing stu­dents and chil­dren as they con­tinue to come out?

HRC: It is an issue that really calls on people to be com­pas­sion­ate, kind, and under­stand­ing. We are at our best in our coun­try when we treat people with respect as indi­vid­u­als and worry more about the con­tent of our char­ac­ter, as Dr. King said, and have an open edu­ca­tion system, an open soci­ety. I was very dis­ap­pointed when the deci­sion was made to reverse the open­ness of our mil­i­tary for trans sol­diers who are serv­ing our coun­try. I think what hap­pened in North Carolina should give you some mea­sure of hope because there was such an outcry. It fun­da­men­tally struck people as wrong to dis­crim­i­nate like that, and there was an effort made to reverse the leg­is­la­tion. That doesn’t change atti­tudes overnight, but you’ve got to have the insti­tu­tional bar­ri­ers like the leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tion come down first. Then you begin to hope people will be more under-stand­ing and com­pas­sion­ate. In schools [is] where all of this has to start.
NO: Running for office is the most ter­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ence ever. It’s been chal­leng­ing; I’ve dealt with every­thing from racism to con­stant ques­tion­ing about my qual­i­fi­ca­tions, even from my peers. How do you stay close to your values, stay con­fi­dent in your­self and your motives, and avoid the super­fi­cial claims made about you, from what you’re wear­ing to your hair and makeup?

HRC: Whoa. How much time do we have? It can be, and usu­ally is, ter­ri­fy­ing the first time you run for office. And you’re knock­ing on doors, you said?

NO: Every day.

HRC: Then there’s a very simple answer: If you’re eli­gi­ble to run for office, you have every right to run. You’re making your case. You are pre­sent­ing your­self. And people have the oppor­tu­nity to sup­port you or not. And at the end of your cam­paign, you’ll find out whether you were suc­cess­ful. But you shouldn’t allow any­body to under­mine you and go after your con­fi­dence or your com­mit­ment to doing this. Easier said than done because it is inces­sant. It’s hard for any first-time can­di­date, but it is harder for women. Wear what you want to present your­self to the voters because that’s who you are. You will be crit­i­cized no matter what you do. The fact is, people should be much more inter­ested in hear­ing what you would do, so you have to get through the super­fi­cial judg­ments and con­stant second-guess­ing. That’s one of the rea­sons when I started run­ning for office — and the whole time I’ve been in the Senate, sec­re­tary of state, run­ning for pres­i­dent — I adopted a uni­form. For me it was pantsuits. After a while, people get bored talk­ing about it and don’t really pay much atten­tion to it.

SA: You are a leader, and I am the com­man­der of the entire corps of cadets. And there is value in your being a woman and in my being an African-American as well as a woman. How have you aimed to be an inclu­sive leader express­ing and pro­mot­ing the value of all people while acknowl­edg­ing your per­sonal con­nec­tion to minor­ity groups?

HRC: Well, it’s really an impor­tant ques­tion, Simone. And you’re living it. So many of the arti­cles that were writ­ten about your becom­ing the com­man­der of the brigade pointed out that you were the first African-American woman to hold that posi­tion. It’s an impor­tant state­ment, but that’s not all of who you are. You are a scholar, an ath­lete, a leader. This new posi­tion gives you a chance to demon­strate the inclu­siv­ity, to demon­strate high stan­dards with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion and big­otry.

I think it was clear to any­body in this past elec­tion: There are a lot of Americans who are uncom­fort­able with progress that’s made by African-Americans, women, the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, people with dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties. We have to demon­strate that we’re better and bigger than that big­otry. Not by just talk­ing, but by demon­strat­ing. One of my favorite people that I’ve ever met and one of my favorite people in his­tory is Nelson Mandela. I got to know him in 1992 along­side my hus­band and my daugh­ter. We had watched him as he had come out of prison. [He] nego­ti­ated to end apartheid, and he could have been very neg­a­tive toward the Afrikaner white pop­u­la­tion, jus­ti­fied on so many grounds. But he wanted to be a leader for all of South Africa. I was priv­i­leged to attend his inau­gu­ra­tion on behalf of our coun­try, and we were invited back to the president’s house for a lunch. There were hun­dreds and hun­dreds of lead­ers from around the world, and President Mandela stood up and said, I’m very hon­ored to have all of these VIPs, kings and queens and pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters and dis­tin­guished people from around the world here. But there are three people I want par­tic­u­larly to rec­og­nize. I want them to stand.” And he called out their names. They were three of his white jail­ers from Robben Island. He said, These men treated me with respect. I was a pris­oner. I was work­ing in the stone quarry. I was treated bru­tally and badly by many. But these three men showed human­ity. And I want to thank them.” That’s lead­er­ship.

SA: It’s delib­er­ately choos­ing to seek out the pos­i­tive even in an adverse sit­u­a­tion.

HRC: That’s right. And lift­ing people up. And you’re sup­posed to lead every­one, not just people who agree with you. And to bring people together, not fur­ther divide them. That’s going to be espe­cially impor­tant in our coun­try, but even in the world, in this cen­tury.

MUZOON ALMELLEHAN: When I was in the refugee camps, I saw many refugees who had given up on their dreams and become so hope­less. I told them that when we think this is the end of our sto­ries, maybe it is the begin­ning of our sto­ries. So if you had a piece of advice that you could pro­vide to chil­dren all over the world, espe­cially girls, what would this be?

HRC: Well, you said some­thing very impor­tant, Muzoon, and that is every­one has a story. And his­tory is about our col­lec­tive story. We need to make sure people are given the chance to tell their indi­vid­ual story. Through your work with UNICEF, [people] see you. They listen to you and think, I didn’t know that’s what a refugee would say or look like. I went to a refugee camp when I was sec­re­tary of state in the east­ern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a part of the coun­try that had been sub­jected to a brutal con­flict in which more than 5 mil­lion people had been killed. And girls and women were par­tic­u­lar tar­gets for abuse, and ter­ri­ble atroc­i­ties were com­mit­ted. I met with a group of adults there and asked them, What is the most impor­tant thing that we could do for you?” One of the moth­ers in the camps said, I want my chil­dren to learn. Their only way for­ward is if they get an edu­ca­tion.” That is the fun­da­men­tal hope of fam­i­lies every­where — what­ever your back­ground [or] your income, people want the chance to see their chil­dren edu­cated. So you being a voice for chil­dren who are living in refugee camps will make a big dif­fer­ence because people will see them as indi­vid­u­als, not just as num­bers.
HS: On a dif­fer­ent note, I wanted to address how cli­mate change is affected by cor­po­ra­tions and indus­tries — par­tic­u­larly the food and drug indus­tries — and how that is con­nected to our own gov­ern­ment on a finan­cial and social level. I’m won­der­ing if you think we can create change through the gov­ern­ment or if it needs to happen on a more social level?

HRC: It has to be both. And it has to be not only national gov­ern­ments; it has to be local gov­ern­ments. There has to be inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion. But it also requires that com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­u­als see this as the great threat that it is. As you point out, agri­cul­ture and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals have a role to play, but the prin­ci­pal prob­lem is the way we pro­duce and con­sume energy. The pro­duc­tion of green­house gas emis­sions has been warm­ing our cli­mate and oceans, which con­tributes to more intense, stronger, and fre­quent hur­ri­canes. Clean, renew­able energy is the key; there are energy sources that will dra­mat­i­cally reduce green­house gas emis­sions. There are more people [work­ing] now than there were five years ago in solar and wind energy. And we need to keep up that momen­tum. I think there’s an unfor­tu­nate will­ing­ness by some in polit­i­cal lead­er­ship posi­tions to deny signs in order to sat­isfy pow­er­ful inter­ests that sup­port their polit­i­cal ambi­tions. But we need to get back to address­ing it with seri­ous­ness because we’re losing ground and time. I was very proud when the United States under President Obama’s lead­er­ship signed the Paris Agreement because I’d worked with the pres­i­dent when I was sec­re­tary of state to begin that process. I knew how hard it was to con­vince coun­tries to get on board. Currently, our new admin­is­tra­tion is not abid­ing by it and doesn’t want to. I think even they are going to have to be real­is­tic about what it’s going to take to reduce green­house gas emis­sions and accel­er­ate our efforts, because we’re going to be paying hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in storm damage and rising water damage.

MC: I want to run for pres­i­dent in 2044. Do you have any advice for me?

HRC: You’re doing so much of what you need to do. You are learn­ing a lot, and that’s great prepa­ra­tion. I would be excited if you ran for pres­i­dent in 2044. Gee, how many years is that from now? I hope I’m around!