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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee Urges Graduates to “Step Out of the Shadows”

Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, delivered the keynote address at Barnard College’s 121st Commencement on Sunday, May 19 at Radio City Music Hall. Gbowee spoke before an audience of about 5,000, including Barnard’s 600 graduates along with faculty, trustees, family, and friends.

“We must learn, decide, and fight to step out of the shadows,” said Gbowee. “Break out about your dreams. Break out about the passion you have for changing the world. Break out about how you feel about things. Never hold back. Refuse to be in the shadows as you step out into this life.” Read the full transcript.

Gbowee also received the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, together with three other pathmakers in their fields: Jimmie Briggs, journalist, human rights advocate, and founder of the Man Up Campaign; Elizabeth Diller, founding principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose projects include the High Line and the redesign of Lincoln Center; and Lena Dunham, award-winning creator, director, writer, and star of the acclaimed HBO series GIRLS. Read the citations and watch the speeches for Gbowee, Briggs, Diller, and Dunham.

The Medals of Distinction were presented by Barnard President Debora L. Spar, who also presided over the ceremony. Watch President Spar's remarks and read a transcript of her speech.

Watch Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ’81, chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees and CEO of the Alberleen Group, greet the graduates, and Provost Linda Bell speak on behalf of the faculty. See Senior Class President Linda Zhang ’13 and Student Government Association President Jung Hee Hyun ’13. Also, watch Natalia Quintero ’13 deliver the Academic Reflections, and Senior Fund co-chairs Lauren Hancock '13 and Jennie Ostendorf '13 announce the senior class gift. You can follow along with the speeches by reading the transcripts posted below the videos. 

Finally, watch a video of the full ceremony including Dean Avis Hinkson '84 reading the names of all 605 graduates as they process across Radio City Music Hall's stage.