Updated on March 3, 2012: Today President Barack H. Obama was announced as Barnard's 2012 Commencement Speaker. Abramson was previously announced as the keynote speaker and has noted that she is happy to speak at Barnard at a later date.  

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, will deliver the keynote at Barnard College’s 120th Commencement ceremony on Monday, May 14, at 12:30 p.m. on Columbia University’s South Lawn. She will address approximately 600 members of the Class of 2012 and receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, along with three other pioneers in their fields: Helene D. Gayle ’76, president and CEO of CARE USA; Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry; and Sally Chapman, Barnard professor of chemistry.

“We have so many reasons to value Ms. Abramson’s place in history as the first woman to appear at the top of The New York Times masthead,” said Barnard President Debora L. Spar. “From her early days as a reporter to her current post as the paper’s executive editor, she has been unfailing in her convictions and a true inspiration. I am certain that our graduates will be energized by her words and personal story.”

Spar will preside over the Commencement ceremony, confer the Barnard Medals of Distinction, present the degree candidates, and address the expected crowd of approximately 3,500 graduates, family and friends, faculty, and staff of Barnard. The graduates will also hear from Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ’81, chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees and CEO of the Alberleen Group.

In recent years, Barnard’s Commencement speakers have included Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and legendary actress Meryl Streep.

For more information, visit www.barnard.edu/commencement.

About the Medalists

Jill Abramson is executive editor of The New York Times, a position she assumed in September 2011. Abramson serves in the highest ranking position in the Times’s newsroom and oversees The New York Times news report in all its various forms.

Prior to being named executive editor, Abramson was managing editor of the Times from August 2003 until August 2011. As managing editor, she helped guide the newsroom through a particularly turbulent period. Abramson helped supervise the coverage of two wars, four national elections, hurricanes, and oil spills. She was also deeply engaged in the newsroom’s effort to change its approach to the dissemination of news and to expand to new and varied digital and mobile platforms.

Abramson joined The New York Times in 1997. She was named Washington bureau chief in December 2000 and served in that position until July 2003. Prior to joining the Times, Abramson worked at The Wall Street Journal from 1988 to 1997. While there, she served as deputy bureau chief in its Washington, D.C. bureau and investigative reporter, covering money and politics.

She is coauthor of Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, a nonfiction finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award in 1994, and Where They Are Now: The Story of the Women of Harvard Law 1974, published in 1986. She is also the author of The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, published in 2011. Abramson is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has taught writing at Princeton and Yale Universities.

Helene D. Gayle ’76 is president and CEO of CARE USA, a leading international humanitarian organization with approximately 10,000 staff, whose poverty-fighting programs reached 82 million people last year in 87 countries. Since joining CARE in 2006, Gayle has led efforts to reinforce CARE’s commitment to empowering girls and women to bring lasting change to poor communities. Under her leadership, CARE has strengthened its focus on long-term impact, increased policy and advocacy efforts, and explored in greater depth the connections between poverty and the environment. An expert on health, global development, and humanitarian issues, she spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, working primarily on HIV/AIDS. Gayle then worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues.

Evan Wolfson is founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide. He was co-counsel in the historic marriage case in Hawaii that launched the ongoing global movement for the freedom to marry. Wolfson earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale College in 1978, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a village in Togo, West Africa, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1983. Citing his national leadership on marriage and his appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, the National Law Journal in 2000 named him one of “the 100 most influential lawyers in America.” In 2004, Wolfson was named one of the “Time 100,” Time magazine's list of “the 100 most influential people in the world.” His book, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, was published by Simon & Schuster in July 2004. 

Sally Chapman, professor of chemistry, joined the Barnard faculty in 1975. She is an activist and advocate on behalf of young women wishing to pursue careers in the sciences. In 2009, Chapman won the College’s Excellence in Teaching Award. She is a fellow of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) and was chosen as Outstanding Woman Scientist of 2002 by AWIS Metro-NY. She is a charter member of COACh, the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists. Prof. Chapman is the principal investigator of a grant from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE Leadership Program, in conjunction with the American Chemical Society PROGRESS program. She has taught and advised generations of students in general, analytical, and physical chemistry. Her research, often involving Barnard students, uses computational techniques to investigate molecular-reaction dynamics. Chapman received her AB summa cum laude from Smith College in 1968, and PhD from Yale University in 1973. She did postdoctoral research at UC-Irvine with Don L. Bunker, and at UC-Berkeley with William H. Miller.