NEW YORK, February 28, 2023 – Barnard College announced today that Lena Waithe, the Emmy Award-winning writer, creator, producer, actor, and founder of the media and production company Hillman Grad, will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2023 at Barnard’s 131st Commencement on May 17, 2023. Waithe will receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, for her work to empower underrepresented artists by amplifying and celebrating the stories and voices of historically marginalized communities across all industries. 

Barnard will also award medals to author and photojournalist Lynsey Addario, diverse media artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and reproductive justice scholar-activist Loretta Ross.

Barnard’s president, Sian Leah Beilock, will preside over the ceremony, present the degree candidates, confer the Medals of Distinction, and address an expected audience of 4,000 family, friends, faculty, and staff. The ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“As the first Black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series, Lena Waithe is a bold trailblazer — and an inspiration to the generations of women who will follow in her footsteps,” said President Beilock. “It’s important to note that she took home television’s highest award for what she said at the time was the ‘most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written.’ There’s a powerful lesson in that for all of us: Being true to yourself doesn’t limit what you can achieve.”

In recent years, Barnard’s Commencement speakers have included President Barack Obama, actress Viola Davis, soccer star and equal-pay advocate Abby Wambach, CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour, Doctors Without Borders International president Joanne Liu, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, actress Meryl Streep, and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

About Barnard

Barnard provides a singular educational experience, as a world-renowned college focused on excellence across the arts and sciences, with all the academic resources of Columbia University and the City of New York as an extended classroom. Founded in 1889, Barnard was one of the few colleges in the nation where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, Barnard is one of the most selective academic institutions in the country and remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional. For more information on Barnard College, contact Barnard Media Relations at 212-854-2037 or To learn more, follow Barnard on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

About the Medalists

Lena Waithe headshot

An Emmy Award-winning writer, creator, producer, actor, and founder of Hillman Grad, Lena Waithe continues to lead the cultural revolution in Hollywood.

Waithe expertly taps into emerging societal trends by speaking to myriad experiences from her unique perspective while challenging audiences to think outside of conventional norms.

Through her production company, Hillman Grad, Waithe and her team fight against the status quo by giving marginalized storytellers the opportunity to access the industry and tell their stories.

Acclaimed credits include projects like Netflix’s Master of None and Beauty, Showtime’s The Chi, BET’s Twenties, Universal’s Queen & Slim, Sundance award-winner The Forty-Year-Old Version, and more.

Upcoming producorial projects include Focus Features and A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One, which received the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival Awards and is set for a March 31, 2023, theatrical release; Kokomo City, which received the NEXT Audience Award and NEXT Innovator Award at Sundance 2023 and has since been acquired by Magnolia Pictures; Disney+’s Chang Can Dunk, which will premiere this year; and Being Mary Tyler Moore, which is set for a world premiere at this year’s SXSW in March.

This June, Waithe will serve as the 2023 American Black Film Festival Ambassador.

Lynsey Addario headshot

Lynsey Addario is an American photojournalist who has been covering conflict, humanitarian crises, and women’s issues around the Middle East and Africa on assignment for The New York Times and National Geographic for more than two decades.

Since September 11, 2001, Addario has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Darfur, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, and Syria, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In 2015, American Photo magazine named Addario as one of five most influential photographers of the past 25 years, saying that she “changed the way we saw the world’s conflicts.”

Addario is the recipient of numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Overseas Press Club’s Olivier Rebbot Award, and two Emmy nominations. She was part of the New York Times team to win a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting out of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

She holds three honorary doctorate degrees for her professional accomplishments, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bates College in Maine, and the University of York in England.

In 2015, Addario wrote a New York Times-bestselling memoir, It’s What I Do, which chronicles her personal and professional life as a photojournalist coming of age in the post-9/11 world.

In 2018, she released her first solo collection of photography, Of Love and War, published by Penguin Press.

maria campos-pons headshot

A Cuban native based in Nashville, María Magdalena Campos-Pons is a diverse media artist who relies on her polyglot heritage to profoundly influence her work in photography, performance, painting, sculpture, film, and video.

Her projects are autobiographical, addressing issues of history, memory, gender, and religion and the way that each informs identity. Through deeply poetic and haunting imagery, Campos-Pons evokes stories of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, indigo, and sugar plantations, Catholic and Santeria religious practices, and revolutionary uprisings.

She is considered a key figure among Cuban artists who found their voice in a post-revolutionary Cuba. In the fall of 2023, Campos-Pons will have a major touring multi-media survey, co-organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum entitled María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Behold. The first survey show of her work since 2007, Behold will travel to four North American locations with a catalog published by the Getty.

Okwui Enwezor (Nigerian curator and art scholar) stated that “Campos-Pons is heir to the fraught history of the Middle Passage; she has submitted the weight of its historical and theoretical possibilities to some of the most trenchant, poetic, and radically introspective artistic reflection on the displaced agency of Africans in the Americas.”

Campos-Pons’ work encapsulates elements of personal history and persona that have universal relevance, depicting her own Afro-Cuban relatives as well as herself as a foil for exploring the salient ties to familiar and cultural history.

She has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada, among other distinguished institutions, and her work can be viewed in over 30 permanent museum collections worldwide.

Loretta Ross headshot

Loretta J. Ross is a professor at Smith College in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, where she teaches courses on white supremacy, human rights, and “calling in” the call-out culture.

Ross also is a recipient of a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship for her work as an advocate of reproductive justice and human rights. She was the national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (2005-2012) and co-created the theory of reproductive justice.

Ross was national co-director of the April 25, 2004, March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., the largest protest march in U.S. history at that time.

She founded the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, launched the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW), and was the national program director of the National Black Women’s Health Project.

One of the first African American women to direct a rape crisis center, Loretta was the third executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center from 1979 to 1982.