Barnard Convocation: Bringing it All Together


It has been a wonderful start. I have been meeting so many fascinating people, settling in to the day-to-day routine, and focusing on the exciting opportunities ahead. But without question, the watershed moment of my first months at Barnard occurred on a perfectly beautiful early fall afternoon—Convocation 2017.

There are many ways to learn about a place and the culture that defines it. Time is certainly one of them, and I look forward to that luxury. But I can confidently say that what is essential to Barnard could be seen on September 12th as the community gathered in Riverside Church.

Inside its massive doors, beneath the stained glass and statuary, the many connections that make this College so special were in evidence. I got goose bumps watching the parade of alumnae, from as early as 1938, proudly carrying the blue class banners past the rows of current students. You are a source of perspective and inspiration, and your presence at Convocation was proof that Barnard continues to figure prominently in your lives. And of course, there was Carol Dweck, Class of ’67, who came to share her wisdom and vast experience as our keynote speaker. Carol is one of the world’s leading experts in the field of motivation and someone whose research has influenced my own. It was especially meaningful to share my first big Barnard occasion with a colleague in my field whom I admire so much.

When Angela Beam ’18 took the podium as president of the Student Government Association, this powerful sense of community continued. She spoke passionately about the importance of student engagement and applauded recent efforts by student groups such as Divest Barnard, whose work resulted in policy changes around fossil fuel divestment. But I was also struck by her remarks about volunteering at Reunion a few years ago. Angela was assigned to escort the Class of 1948. When she asked one alumna about her favorite aspect of Barnard, the alumna responded, “How much I grew while I was here.” Nearly seventy years may separate these two women, but they are united by a feeling for Barnard that seems timeless. Angela clearly understands that she is part of a significant legacy in a place that will help shape her viewpoints… and that she will help shape future students who will follow in her footsteps.

When it was my turn to speak, it would have been easy to lose my bearings given the magnitude of the moment. But there, in the front row, sat my mother, Ellen, and my daughter, Sarah, waiting patiently for my words and transmitting silent signals of support. Ellen was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, and has always been someone to look up to, a career woman from the start. During her early days as a lawyer, she would step into the courtroom and often be mistaken for the court reporter. It wasn’t easy terrain, but she persisted—all the more reason she is tuned in to Barnard’s mission and the opportunities for women that the College represents. She tells me that I have rocked her world (and worries if I am getting enough sleep). But she rocked mine first, and I will always be grateful for her example.

And then there is six-year-old Sarah who leaves me in awe and occasionally scratching my head. She is outspoken, self-assured, and already advocating for her own best interests. According to Sarah, Barnard is where you sleep in bunk beds (which is why she has one in her new room), being president means going to meetings all the time, and New York City is where dreams come true. And if hers does, she will be a Barnard student one day. At least that is what she is telling me at the moment. Maybe the Barnard Class of 2033 is in her future, maybe not. But either way, I am very pleased that her world now includes a diverse and amazing group of young women from whom she will learn so much.

Barnard past, present, and future could be felt in Riverside Church that day. There was the circle of women in my own family, the classes of Barnard students sporting their class T-shirts who are ready to challenge themselves and each other, my distinguished faculty colleagues, and you, along with Carol Dweck—our alumnae who tell the story of this College through the decades, passing down your knowledge and your enthusiasm for Barnard.

There is tremendous power in this universe of relationships and I, for one, am delighted to be part of it. 

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