ABBY WAMBACH. American soccer star. World class athlete. Activist for the rights of others. Ever the fearless leader, on the field and off. You were the youngest of seven kids, raised on competition in Pittsford, New York, where family time and polished manners were sacred. With your siblings it was survival of the fittest, and your toughness and determination showed very early on. Soccer, the game that you would someday define, captured your imagination beginning at age four. There was soccer camp. The boys’ league. Our Lady of Mercy High School. University of Florida. It was one hat trick after another, so that scoring and almost always winning formed the rhythm of your life. You were a tomboy and a rebel and you practiced your autograph when you should have been studying. Somehow you must have sensed what a star you would become.
Anyone who knows your sport knows the tally. You are the all-time leading scorer in international soccer history, for both women and men, with 184 career goals, 77 of which were made with your head. The leading scorer in the Women’s World Cup tournaments in 2007 and 2011. The leading scorer in the Olympics in 2004 and 2012. Six times the US Soccer Federation’s US Soccer Athlete of the Year, and more. As a player you are known for your razor focus, diving headers, and physicality, and for being a relentless competitor—not even a broken leg could stop you. And as a teammate you are loved for your leadership, always sharing the credit for every goal you’ve ever scored.
But there is a bigger field that you inhabit. You say that true activism is born in heartbreak. You say, “Find out what breaks your heart and do whatever you can to fix it.” That is why you were at the forefront of tackling the gender pay gap for women in soccer, helping set a precedent that went well beyond sports. And following your retirement in 2015, you put your whole being into advocating for inclusion and equality for all athletes. You have been an especially strong role model for kids and the LGBTQ community, knowing from your own experience what being on the outside can mean. You have been vocal about accepting your body, your sexual orientation, your weaknesses and your gifts. You recently announced that you plan to donate your brain to science so that the impact of heading the ball can be better understood.
Today, with you as inspiration we have this big goal in mind… to practice and persist, to stay honest and bold, to challenge the status quo and to take care of others. Therefore, Abby Wambach—after the Olympic gold medals, the silver ball, the bronze boot, and all the rest—it is my honor to hand over the 2018 Barnard Medal of Distinction. Thank you for winning the day.
— Presented by President Sian Leah Beilock