GRADUATION AROUND THE NATION 2009
Barnard College: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & President Debra Spar
At the end of her first year as Barnard College’s President, Debora Spar ushered the class of 2009 through their final moments as students with the help of a guest speaker—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called for “digital diplomacy.”
At the May 18 Commencement Ceremony, held on Columbia’s campus due to the construction of Barnard’s student center, Clinton received Barnard’s Medal of Distinction, along with lawyer and advocate Kay Crawford Murray, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and anthropologist Irene Winter.
Spar introduced Clinton, saying that she “raised the mark, and surpassed the mark” for women in politics. “You have never settled in the middle,” Spar said, noting that Clinton attended Wellesley, a women’s college. “You’ve always loved history, and now, many times over, you’ve made it,” Spar said.
Decked out in robes, Clinton took to the podium, receiving rapturous applause. “I am thrilled to be here,” Clinton said, adding that attending a women’s college is “the best investment that I and my parents ever made.”
After delving into the history of Barnard’s founding, Clinton told the graduates, “you have been prepared for global citizenship in the interconnected world of the 21st century.”
She proceeded to explain how the terms of diplomacy have changed, from closed-door meetings and “pin-striped suits” to “21st century statecraft,” which is carried out in a variety of venues: “in barrios and rural villages … also church basements, hospitals, union halls, civic and cultural centers, and even in the dorms and classrooms of colleges like this.”
Today’s diplomacy, Clinton said, is “fueled by personal engagement and interpersonal connections” in an age of digital networking. Clinton called for a renewed “commitment to global service,” asking each graduate to be “a special envoy of your ideals.”
Specifically, Clinton urged the class of 2009 to address women’s rights. “As women with strong voices and strong values, you are in a unique position to support women worldwide who don’t have the resources you do, but whose lives and dreams are just as worthy as yours and mine,” Clinton said. “I have concluded after traveling many miles and visiting many places in the last decades that talent is universally distributed, but opportunity is not. The futures of these women and girls will affect yours and mine. And therefore, it is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing.”
Speaking of women in the Middle East, Clinton said “the subjugation of women—the denial of their rights as human beings—is not an expression of religion or of God’s will. It is a betrayal of both.” To help combat these issues, Clinton cited the upcoming Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships that would connect students to embassies. Clinton concluded by stressing the importance of incorporating service into all sorts of careers and lifestyles.
Anna Quindlen, writer and chair of Barnard’s Board of Trustees, spoke on behalf of the Trustees. “Wow. Am I surrounded by strong women today!” she exclaimed. Addressing the enrobed graduates, she said, “at this moment, you are dressed for success. … You are Barnard women, and believe me, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Student Government Association president Sarah Besnoff addressed her class with a message of unity. “The greatest opportunity at Barnard is the chance to be surrounded by the most intelligent, diverse, passionate, dedicated women,” she said. “An amazing thing happens at Barnard: we forge a sisterhood.” She described the need to draw a “map of our joint experience.”
“We stand here today with the woman who put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” Besnoff said, referring to the amount of votes Clinton garnered in her presidential campaign. “Well we, the Barnard College class of 2009, have been given the opportunity to break the damn thing.”
Dean Dorothy Denburg presented the graduates, calling upon each of the 625 women in the class of 2009 to cross the stage and shake the hands of administrators and Citation winners (with the exception of Clinton, who left immediately following her speech).
Spar then turned to respond to the graduates, elucidating the differences between when she graduated college and now, a time when a “palpable sense of possibility” lingers. Though the job market may not look promising, Spar said, a full forest view shows valuable opportunities for those just entering the workforce. “Very few generations have the luck to come of age during a massive inflection point in history,” Spar said. “This time, your time, is one of those moments. Seize it.”#