ANNA QUINDLEN. Author. Journalist. Winner of awards. Part of the fabric of the literary world and part of this College forever.
Like me, you are Philadelphia born and Barnard bred. You were a writer from the start, crafting your first story at the age of 12, but with this college degree in hand your destiny seemed set. On May 15, 1974, you listened to Margaret Mead deliver your commencement address, shook hands with then-President Peterson, and set off. Looking back, your application to Barnard noted “an urge to write the great American novel… because I love to write, and always have.” You sensed early on that criticism was essential to the equation—you longed to know if you were good enough to succeed.
Clearly you were and clearly you did—from general assignment reporter at The New York Post to columnist at The New York Times, to the highest ranking woman in the newsroom. With nine novels, nine years delivering the “Last Word” for Newsweek, a memoir, collections of columns, and books of wisdom like Short Guide to a Happy Life, you have taken more readers than we can count on every kind of journey. You draw characters we cherish, give voice to complex family dynamics, and tackle issues an activist can love, observing day-to-day experiences for women, not as isolated events but as part of a larger societal realm. Your service to Planned Parenthood is another reflection of your no-nonsense commitment to causes that matter.
You have sold millions of books, made every bestseller list The Times has to offer, and yes, you won a Pulitzer Prize. Yet with all that acclaim, you have never once let Barnard down—serving as board chair for eight years and as an ardent alumna for the last 44.
My class—the most diverse in the College’s history—will do everything imaginable in lives just beginning to take shape. And we can learn from you, because you are the amalgamation of every story you've ever told. At this moment of our graduation, no matter our major or our course, you make us less afraid—to define our own success, to write and speak our truths, to know that whatever we embody there is a place for us in this world.
On behalf of my classmates, and anyone anywhere who is drafting their own story, I am proud and honored to present you with the 2018 Barnard Medal of Distinction. Thank you, Ms. Quindlen, for leading the way.
— Presented by Rowan Hepps Keeney ’18