Cappella and Dinosaurs at Barnard’s Graduation
am your child; remember me. Oh, Lord, remember me.”
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon repeatedly sang this gospel line while
standing at the podium on Barnard College’s Lehman Lawn. Each
time she sang it, she changed it, adding a flourish here, more
know this is not Georgia. This is not even an African American
Baptist meeting. But you can pretend,” she said, chastising the
audience for not singing along with her. Eventually, though, she
coaxed everyone to “step outside the safety zone” and start singing.
Reagon, a composer, singer and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock,
the African American a cappella ensemble, delivered the Commencement
address for the 540 blue-capped and gowned graduates and their
assorted family and friends. She spoke about the importance of
making a mark on the world and changing things that are not right.
“I think I come to talk about throwing your life against those
things you see that should not be,” she suggested. Using football
imagery, she offered herself as a “blocker” for the future generation.
“I will move someone aside to give you the chance to come out
on the other side.”
Reagon received Barnard’s Medal of Distinction, along with Morris
Dees, a civil rights lawyer and activist, Maxine Greene, a Barnard
graduate and professor at Teachers College, and Susan Hendrickson,
the archaeologist who discovered the largest and most complete
Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1990 in South Dakota.
you thought that the biggest, baddest beast of all creation could
have been female, I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever
heard,” Nan Rothschild, Chair of Barnard’s Anthropology Department
told Hendrickson when she presented her the award. The comment
evoked cheers from the graduates.
Several students addressed the gathering, telling inside jokes
and memories of their days at Barnard and commentary on the future.
“We entered Barnard as apprehensive teenagers, and leave as confident
young women,” said Jyoti Menon, President of the Student Government
Association. “We will be teaching for America, attending law school,
attending medical school, working on Wall Street, looking for
a big break on Broadway, and setting out to achieve our dreams.”
To achieve these dreams, Reagon warned graduates not to limit
themselves. “Do not think that there is any path before you that
you should follow,” she said. “I am suggesting that you have to
try to create things that are not here.”
Reagon was not the only one to appeal to the graduates’ sense
of service. Elizabeth Boylan, Provost and Dean of the Faculty,
presented a breakdown of the world’s population if it were shrunk
to a village of 100 people and all the existing ratios would stay
the same. Of them, “one [percent]—yes, only one—would have a college
education,” she said. “[You] are a very privileged minority with
a whole lot of understanding and learning and vision to offer
to the world.”
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.