Barnard Medal of Distinction Citation for Lena Dunham, presented by Board Chair Emerita Anna Quindlen'74 at Commencement 2013.
Lena Dunham. Writer. Creator. Director. Producer. Actor. New Yorker. GIRL.
Clearly, there was something in the water in May of 1986. An extra dose of cleverness, a truth serum, a subtle infusion of brilliance and daring. It didn’t hurt that your parents were artists and that you grew up surrounded by limitless expression—the only filter was in the coffee pot—and a keen appreciation for the discerning eye and the constant critique. You headed west to Oberlin for the kind of liberal arts education that, as we all know, is the basis for greatness, and emerged four years later with a degree in creative writing and some nerve.
You were 23 when you wrote, directed, and starred in Tiny Furniture, a full-scale, low-budget examination of post-graduation delirium. An endearingly frank and vulnerable self-portrait, it speaks to anyone, Class of 2013, waiting for opportunity in life. For your comedic voice and deft hand you won best narrative at South by Southwest, an Independent Spirit Award, and heaps of attention. And then came GIRLS. In two seasons, 20 sharply-drawn episodes, you have given us television that the New York Times calls “fearlessly dark, crude and unidealized.” Baring skin, psyche, and soul, you project a world that is more and less than expected, observe love and friendship with pathos and rigor, and show that, like it or not, there’s a bit of Hannah Horvath in us all.
You are proof that it’s possible to be totally young and seriously accomplished, disarmingly relatable and entirely unique. You’re the first female director to win a Director’s Guild Award for “Television Comedy Series.” Planned Parenthood just gave you a Maggie Award for Media Excellence, and you just made Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. You’ve earned Emmy nods in nearly every category, and two Golden Globes, which you dedicated to “every woman who has ever felt like there wasn't a space for her.”
We will read your upcoming book, Not That Kind of Girl, knowing that you are this kind of girl: super smart, super driven, unabashed, unafraid, full of wit, full of talent, and on the verge of even more… quite Barnard-like, in fact. So, on behalf of my alma mater, women, feminists, and writers everywhere, I am delighted to proclaim that this 2013 Barnard Medal of Distinction now belongs to you.