Ask Hillary Clinton - The presidential candidate answers Rookie readers’ questions.

 In late July, Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to formally accept the nomination as the party’s presidential candidate, making history as the first woman to do so. Three months later, Secretary Clinton is poised to make history again, as the first woman to become president of the United States, if she wins the November 8 election.

Secretary Clinton’s intelligence and dedication to serving the American people over the last 40 years—including her work as a children’s and families’ advocate, as First Lady of the United States, as the first woman from New York elected to the U.S. Senate, and as Secretary of State—have inspired us. Her sharp wit and poised demeanor (particularly during the contentious presidential debates) have been a breath of fresh air during this troublesome, stressful election cycle.

In October, we asked Rookie readers to send questions for Secretary Clinton, and you delivered. You wondered how she stays calm on the campaign trail, whether she has advice for teens interested in politics (she does), and about her opinion of Kate McKinnon’s impression of her on Saturday Night Live. With just five days left before the election, Secretary Clinton has answers. The floor is hers.

Many Rookie readers are planning to go to college, currently at university, or recent college graduates. Can you talk about your plans to alleviate student debt? —Diamond Sharp

Diamond, student debt is such an important issue–I hear about it everywhere I go. As a student in Nevada put it, paying for college shouldn’t be the hardest part of going to college. And yet for a lot of people, it is.

I worked on a plan with Bernie Sanders to make college more affordable. We’re going to make in-state public colleges tuition-free for working families and debt-free for everyone else. In other words, you’ll never have to borrow a dime to pay for college tuition.

That’s one big piece of the puzzle.

Here’s another: Right now, 40 million people in our country have student loans. For some people, that debt is manageable, but for many, it isn’t. It makes it harder to buy a car or house, start a business, move to a new city, start a family–all the things you may want to do in your twenties and thirties.

So here’s what we’re going to do about it. We’re going to make it so you can pay back your student loans at lower interest rates, which will save you money. We’ll cap how much you pay every month, so you’ll never be on the hook for more than you can afford. And if you start a business in an underserved community or go into public service, we’ll reduce your debt, because we should be encouraging those kinds of careers.

If you want to see how much you could save, we built a calculator: hillaryclinton.com/calculator.

Our plan will make a real difference for a lot of people, and I’m excited about it.

HEY, HILLARY! I love you so much, and I know you can beat Donald Trump. I just want to ask you how you keep so calm during the debates. I’m like swearing and about to punch someone and you’re just smiling and it’s amazing! Do you do like a lot of yoga or something? —Lulu, Virginia

Lulu, you are very kind, thank you. Honestly, it took some work. I prepared for those debates, and part of the preparation was just thinking through all the outrageous things he might say, just to acclimate myself to them. I didn’t want him to shock me, and for the most part, he didn’t. So take it from me–visualization works!

Having said that, in some ways, I’ve been preparing for those debates for a long time–like, for decades. I’ve been in some pretty high-stress, highly visible situations, where if I got too emotional or lost my cool, it would have been bad. So I’ve gotten a lot of practice in the art of staying calm, thinking before speaking, deep breathing, and not automatically showing how I feel.

I’ll be honest–there are sometimes downsides to being good at these things. People sometimes say that they can’t quite figure me out, and this might be why. I strive to balance being thoughtful and calm with being relaxed and open with people. That’s something a lot of women deal with, especially if they’re in the public eye. It’s just how it goes.

And yes–I do yoga whenever I can. It really does help!

What do you recommend to a teenage girl being harassed by male classmates for being a feminist? —Deanna, 16, Maryland

Oh no, Deanna. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this.

In my experience, whenever you take a stand for what you believe, there will always be people who disagree with you. That’s especially true, I think, for women. So please know that you’re in good company. Believe me, every strong woman you admire who has worked to make our world a fairer place has faced opposition along the way. It’s usually a sign that you’re doing something right.

But–and this is a big but–when that disagreement crosses over into bullying or harassment, it’s never OK. If it makes you feel scared or uncomfortable or unsafe, I hope you’ll consider telling them directly to stop or asking someone you trust to step in. You should be able to go to school or use the internet or just live your life without fear of being bullied. I actually have a new plan to help states end bullying in their schools and communities for exactly that reason.

Oh, and by the way–you can let them know that there are a lot of proud feminist men out there, too. As my running mate, Tim Kaine, likes to say: Strong men support strong women.

Don’t let the haters get you down.

Are there any songs that you turn to in your darkest times, that make you believe that the world can be better? —Alex, 20, Tucson

Anything by Adele. She’s just amazing. Also, the entire Hamilton soundtrack. I’ve seen the show three times and I’ve cried every time–and danced hard in my seat. It’s fantastic and deeply inspiring. Our founders were not perfect people but they were united by the idea that they could build this new country from nothing. They knew they were part of something bigger than themselves. Even now, in an election like this one, Hamilton is a powerful reminder that Americans are and have always been more than our disagreements. (Also: to not throw away your shot.)

And of course, there’s always “Fight Song.” I’ll be singing that in my head for a long, long time.

What advice would you give to a high school student who wishes to pursue a career in politics? Thank you so much! —Tasi, 15, Guam

Tasi, I hope this means you’re thinking about getting involved!

One thing I’d suggest is to put yourself in situations that challenge what you think and how you see the world. Politics has a lot to do with putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Or to put it another way: It’s about empathy. I know that’s not what people tend to say about politics, but it’s really true. And you can start developing your empathy right now, by listening to the views of the people around you and learning more about their lives.

When I was in high school, I was actually a Republican. My father was a strong conservative and I respected his opinion so much. The first time I started thinking “maybe this party isn’t for me” was when my history teacher assigned a fellow student and me to play opposing roles in a mock debate during the 1964 presidential election. I was President Lyndon B. Johnson and my classmate–a Democrat–was Barry Goldwater. We begged to switch, but our teacher knew what he was doing. By the time I had done my research and gotten ready for the mock debate, I had started to think about a lot of issues differently. And by opening myself up to consider all sides of an argument, I discovered what I really believed.

That skill–being able to see things through someone else’s eyes and listen respectfully to people who don’t agree with me–has made me a better candidate, and frankly, a better person. So that’s my #1 piece of advice to you.

How do you get over other people saying or thinking that you only got to where you are because you’re a woman in a male-dominated space? I’m studying to become a computer programmer, and people say to me all the time, “Oh, you’ll have no trouble getting a job—they’re dying to hire women in that industry.” The thing is, I know that I’m really good at programming—but sometimes doubt creeps in that, even if I AM talented, opportunities have or will come my way only because of my gender. I know I can’t change what other people think, but how do I stop their negative thoughts from infecting the way I think of myself? I so admire your confidence, and I would really appreciate any advice you have to give. —Kiley, 20, Chicago

I know how you feel, Kiley. Boy, do I.

Being a woman in a predominately male field can be really challenging. You’ve identified one frequent way that women are dismissed.

Years ago, when I took the test to get into law school, my friend and I were some of the only women in the room. It wasn’t as common back then for women to become lawyers. Right before the exam began, a group of men began saying really nasty things to us. “You don’t need to be here.” “There’s plenty else you can do.” They didn’t want to lose a spot at law school, and here we were, competing with them.

It got really intense, but I knew I couldn’t respond–I didn’t want to get distracted and mess up the test. (See above re: having to stay cool in tough situations.) I kept my focus, took the test, and got into law school.

In moments like these, it’s easy to doubt your abilities. And when someone says you got to where you are just because you’re a woman, that really hurts. But know this: You are where you are because you’re talented and you work hard. Just because some people don’t want to see that doesn’t change that one bit.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is from Eleanor Roosevelt, who said that women in public life need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros. I think that applies to women in a lot of fields. Other people may be focused on trying to tear you down, but if you keep your head down and work hard, I promise you, you will be the one left standing at the end of the day.

It seems like mental health is only brought up in politics after major tragedies, but one in five Americans experienced mental health issues in 2014 alone. Have you or anyone close to you ever experienced mental health problems? What was that like, and what advice do you have for people currently struggling? —Kelsey, 16, Virginia

Kelsey, thank you so much for asking about mental health. This is an issue that touches a lot of people’s lives, including people close to me. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s working hard to bring this topic out of the shadows and into the light. And as President, I’ll do everything I can make sure people suffering from mental health problems can get the treatment and support they deserve, without facing any shame or stigma.

For anyone who is struggling with mental health, please know you are loved, and you are not alone. If there’s a parent, a teacher, a friend, or someone in your life you trust, start by reaching out to them. Take it one step at a time. Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. You deserve to be happy, healthy, and supported. And I bet that if you look around, you’ll see that you have a network of people who care about you–more than you realize.

How accurate is Kate McKinnon’s SNL impression of you? —Julia

Watching Kate McKinnon play me on SNL is like an out-of-body experience. Some of what she does is, at times, a little too close for comfort. There’s a kind of pinching wave she does that I definitely recognize. I do know from having been on the show with her that there is one big difference between the two of us: She’s a wonderful singer, and I can’t carry a tune to save my life.

Who is your favorite comedian, or someone who always makes you laugh? –Asna, 18, Atlanta

Ellen DeGeneres is not only hilarious, she’s also a genuinely kind person and tries hard to make the world a better place. It doesn’t get much better than that.

In my city of Portland, Oregon, there were some protests regarding Black Lives Matter around our City Hall, where there was controversy surrounding lack of action from policymakers about police brutality and misconduct. How will you work with policymakers regarding issues of police brutality and misconduct? What will you do that is different from what has been done before? —Natalie, 16, Portland

Some of the most powerful conversations I’ve had in this campaign have been with people devoted to working for racial and social justice. They care deeply about their communities and are calling on all of us to do better. Like the Mothers of the Movement–remarkable women who have lost children to gun violence or in police-involved incidents and are now doing everything they can to prevent other mothers from having to suffer that loss. And the activists in the Movement for Black Lives, who have challenged all of us to think about issues of race, justice, and equality in new and powerful ways.

If I’m elected, one of the great projects of my presidency will be to make progress on this front–to root out systemic racism and to heal the divides in our country. You’ve identified one key issue: policing. We need to restore the bonds of trust between police and communities. One thing I want to do is create guidelines for our whole country on the use of force by police officers. We also need to acknowledge implicit bias–all the preconceptions and attitudes each of us carries with us–is a real problem, especially in law enforcement.

This work will be hard. But we absolutely have to do it. This is about justice, about right and wrong, and it’s about saving people’s lives. So we’ve really got to come together and take this on. That’s what I’ll do as President. ♦

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. If you’re 18 or older, get out and vote!

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