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The making of Hillary Clinton: 15 moments that define her public life

Perhaps no person in America better reflects the possibility and peril of a life lived in the public eye than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

From lashing out at a “vast right-wing conspiracy” when news of her husband’s infidelity emerged to finding her “own voice” after a teary answer to a voter’s question on the campaign trail, Clinton has never failed to confound her critics and inspire her fans.

As Clinton’s final day at the State Department closes the latest chapter of her public life, here is a look at 15 key moments -- from the 1960s through today.

First big speech: Hillary Diane Rodham gives the commencement address at Wellesley College in Massachusetts in May 1969. It establishes her not just as respected but as outspoken: She criticizes a previous speaker, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, and suggests that he is out of touch with the action her generation craves. Weeks later, she is featured in Life magazine as a shining example of the Class of ’69.


 

William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Meeting her match: At Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham meets Bill Clinton. She would write later that the attraction was immediate, and that they shared an intellectual bond that never broke: "Bill Clinton and I started a conversation in the spring of 1971," she wrote in the memoir, "and more than 30 years later, we're still talking."

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‘If that's not enough ... don’t vote for him': Bill and Hillary Clinton go on “60 Minutes” in January 1992, in an interview that airs immediately after the Super Bowl, to deny that he had had a 12-year affair with an Arkansas state employee, Gennifer Flowers. In the interview, Hillary Clinton says: “You know, I'm not sitting here — some little woman standin’ by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him.” The couple are pictured with “60 Minutes” executive producer Don Hewitt.

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Health-care advocate: As first lady, Hillary Clinton leads a presidential effort in 1993 and 1994 to reform health care, a policy role unprecedented for a first lady. The plan ultimately aims for universal coverage by requiring employers to provide health care. But some Republicans, and notably the insurance industry, attack the plan as hopelessly bogged down in bureaucracy, and it dies in Congress. The defeat is a huge setback for a woman who aspired to be a non-traditional first lady but who opponents feared had designs on being a co-president.

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Making her mark: In September 1995, Clinton goes to a U.N. conference in Beijing and delivers a forceful critique of abuse of women in China, using language that would be considered strong for any American leader but particularly out of the ordinary for a first lady. She declares: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

 

Conspiracy theory: In January 1998, just after allegations surface of a presidential affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky, Hillary Clinton goes on TODAY and dismisses the matter as a "feeding frenzy." She stresses that the president has denied the suggestions of an affair. She goes on to tell Matt Lauer: “The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

 

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Between the two of them: The Clintons, with daughter Chelsea famously clutching their hands, leave the White House for a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in August 1998. A day earlier, the president had admitted on national television that he had had an improper relationship with former White House interview Monica Lewinsky. Hillary Clinton later writes of this period in her memoir: “Although I was heartbroken and disappointed with Bill, my long hours alone made me admit to myself that I loved him. What I still didn't know was whether our marriage could or should last.”

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Engaging debate: Clinton makes a point during a September 2000 debate with Rep. Rick Lazio for a Senate seat from New York. During the same debate, Lazio produces a pledge against “soft money” political contributions and walks over to Clinton’s lectern, encouraging her to “sign it right now.” Some Clinton supporters later say the move was bullying. Clinton wins with 55 percent of the vote, and in 2006 trounces another Republican opponent with 67 percent. She generally wins praise as a hard worker in the Senate, and after re-election quickly turns her attention to a bid for the presidency.

Jim Cole / AP

Finding her voice: Clinton exults after defeating Sen. Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary in January 2008, resuscitating her campaign after a bruising defeat in Iowa days earlier. Clinton, asked by a New Hampshire voter how she deals with the stress of campaigning, had choked up and said: “You know, I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards.” In her victory speech, Clinton says she “found my own voice.”

 

Elise Amendola / AP

The laugh: Nearing the end of her primary campaign, Clinton enjoys a drink and some laughs with reporters on her campaign plane after a stop in South Dakota in May 2008. Her laugh — with a boisterous crescendo that borders on a cackle — becomes so famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) that it inspires a parody by Amy Poehler on “Saturday Night Live.”

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End of a long battle: Clinton waves to supporters at the National Building Museum in Washington in June 2008 after endorsing Obama for president — the end of their historic prizefight of a Democratic primary campaign. In a reference to her popular-vote count in the Democratic race, she says: “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”

Pool / Reuters

Globetrotter: Clinton, as secretary of state for Obama's first term, visits the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, in October 2009. She would say later that it was “hard to believe” that no one in the Pakistani government knew where al-Qaida leaders were hiding. By the end of her tenure as secretary, Clinton had visited 112 countries, logged 956,000 miles and spent the equivalent of 87 days traveling, according to an official State Department count.

Pete Souza / The White House

Finding Osama bin Laden: Clinton, with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the president’s national security team, waits out a tense moment just off the White House Situation Room during the May 2011 raid that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Asked later why she had her hand over her mouth, Clinton would say: “Those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken. I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. So it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters / REUTERS

Hillz, the meme: Her popularity as secretary of state spills over to the Internet when, in October 2011, she is photographed checking a mobile device and wearing sunglasses aboard a military C-17 plane bound from Malta for Libya. The shot inspires a Tumblr site, Texts from Hillary Clinton, in which the "secretary" sends snarky texts to the likes of Ryan Gosling, Mark Zuckerberg ... and Mitt Romney.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

‘Prevent it from ever happening again’: Clinton testifies to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton is pressed by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., about why the administration had not learned quickly that the attack was a planned assault, not the spontaneous result of a protest. She answers: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

 

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Full slideshow: Hillary Clinton's life has taken her from first lady to senator to secretary of state.