She picked up an honorary degree from Yale University, along with nine others, 36 years after earning her own law degree from the Ivy League school.
Graduates celebrating commencement at Yale erupted in cheers as Clinton was introduced. In keeping with Yale tradition, the names of honorary degree recipients are a closely held secret, although word began trickling out Sunday of Clinton's participation.
None of the 10 honorary degree recipients spoke during the morning ceremony held for the university at large, where Yale handed out 2,868 undergraduate and graduate degrees. It was the school's 308th commencement ceremony.
Clinton did speak for about five minutes during the Yale Law School's separate commencement event held in the early afternoon. There, she reminisced about her days at Yale, saying the law school was an "encampment for protests and frivolity" when she arrived in the fall of 1969.
She met her husband, Bill Clinton, at Yale 22 years before he was elected the nation's 42nd president.
She expressed hope that every graduate would "use every creative gene you have" in order to work "on behalf of the public good."
Clinton drew laughs from the crowd when she jokingly apologized for taking Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh "away from the law school and putting him to work in Washington." Koh was nominated by President Barack Obama to be legal adviser to the State Department.
In a nod to the rough job market, Clinton also urged the new law school graduates to apply for work in the Obama administration, at the State Department and with the United States Agency for International Development.
University President Richard Levin praised Clinton for bringing attention to health care, education and women's and children's rights throughout her storied career.
"Through hard work, forceful advocacy and an impressive grasp of the issues, you earned the respect of your colleagues in the Senate and the admiration of your constituents...We have known of your brilliance from your days as a student in the Yale Law School. Now we admire your bravery in confronting ancient enmities and your boldness in seeking peace."After accepting the honorary award, Clinton raised the degree in her hand, waved and mouthed "thank you" to the cheering crowd.