Reflections by Hilana Ezekiel ’15On Monday July 29, 2013 Barnard College hosted the Women in the World Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership Academy, sponsored by Newsweek and the Daily Beast. Fifty young women ages 18-25, selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants, attended the all-day conference that featured panels of successful women speaking about their own experiences as well as sessions on engaging in social entrepreneurship and activism.
The day started with a panel entitled “Portrait of a Woman Leader”; one of the participants was Barnard President Debora Spar. Moderator and Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner referenced Spar’s new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, giving it a “two-word review: Buy it.” Spar’s book discusses women’s attempts to have it all and argues that having it all, in fact, is impossible. Spar mostly addressed the tension between being a career woman and a mother. While motherhood is not in my immediate future plans, her advice spoke to me as a rising college junior beginning my own journey as a woman and a feminist. That I must be perfect at everything, all at once, is an idea I can relate to, and based on the ensuing discussion, it’s a common feeling among women at many stages of life.
The event also featured Julie Zeilinger ’15, founder of thefbomb.org, interviewing Newsweek/Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown. They talked about advice Brown wished she had in her 20s, including the value of networking with other women. “You have to have some support,” Brown said, adding that women “definitely need a group of rallying friends who will be there for you.”
The conference, while inspirational, was also intimidating—especially hearing from 20-year-old published authors and 21-year-old social entrepreneurs. They seem to have found that balance that I am still striving to achieve. As a dual-degree student at Barnard and the Jewish Theological Seminary with a full course load, leadership positions on campus, and internships, it’s hard to imagine taking on more, particularly in a capacity that will benefit women on a global scale. Luckily, the Barnard sisterhood is strong and one of the participants, Jessica Blank ’12, shared some advice learned from a year in the real world. “You should be leveraging what you’re already doing,” she told me, noting her efforts to parlay her interests into a career. This was a comforting point, and made me think that making a difference in the world is attainable. For me, this could mean meshing my passion for writing fiction with my interest in feminism—I could use both to inspire others to tell their own stories.
The conference reminded me that in order to help galvanize change in the world, it’s important to be open to a non-linear path through life. “There’s no one path for success,” Spar said. “We all have to make our own way in the world.” She related that my peers and I will have many opportunities to do anything we want in life, just not simultaneously, and perhaps not in the order we had planned. I came away from the conference reassured that I will find opportunities to be an effective leader and help other people, if I take my own well-being seriously and focus on my interests and strengths. As President Spar told the audience, “Take on responsibility, learn new things, accept new challenges, and you’ll wake up one day running something.”
By Hilana Ezekiel ’15 for Barnard’s Communications Department
Photos by Josette Persson