The rain gave way to sunshine as more than 1,200 alumnae and friends returned to campus to celebrate Barnard Reunion 2019. They marveled at the campus’ changing landscape, especially The Cheryl and Philip Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning, the College’s spectacular new building, which opened last fall.
At the Alumnae of Color dinner on Thursday, graduates from the past five decades gathered to reconnect with friends, faculty, and current Barnard students in attendance. The featured speaker was Paola Ramos ’09, who served in the White House and then on President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, as well as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Since then, she’s worked in media and activism and currently hosts Vice’s series Latin-X.
“It was here that, all of a sudden, that fear I had about speaking up was gone,” said Ramos, “where the words I was writing on paper found meaning, and where to the left and right there were women that looked like me, that spoke like me, that loved like me, and when I finally understood what it meant to be bold.”
Attendees were introduced to Brianna Johnson ’20, recipient of a scholarship from the Zora Neale Hurston ’28 Scholarship Fund, and Samaha Hossain ’20, recipient of an award from the Sheila Abdus-Salaam Scholarship Fund. Both expressed how attending Barnard has impacted their lives and how they hope to live up to the expectations of these honors.
Extraordinary stories and alumnae were in attendance, including a group of graduates from the Class of 2009 who have remained friends since the first day of freshman year, and Darcel Dillard-Suite ’83, who enthused, “The strong relationships I’ve sustained over the years are so precious to me.”
On Friday morning, a multidenominational memorial service was held where alumnae, friends, and family gathered to honor alumnae who have passed away. The service, officiated by the Reverend Dr. Anna (Keller) Pearson ’85, featured moving memories and stories of members of the Barnard community who are no longer with us but live on in our hearts.
Later that afternoon, AABC President Jyoti Menon ’01 shared updates on the Alumnae Association of Barnard College (AABC), followed by a celebration and presentation of the AABC awards. Awards for Service to Barnard went to Barnard Trustee and president of the Barnard Club of London Leila Bassi ’94; dedicated volunteer Lori A. Hoepner ’94, who has held dozens of posts, including class president and chair of the AABC Fellowship Committee; and Pauline Piskin Sherman ’64, who has spent over 45 years engaging her class and alumnae with events and fundraising.
Millicent Carey McIntosh Awards for Feminism went to Leslie M. Kantor ’89, a leading expert on sexual and reproductive health whose life’s work is dedicated to women’s needs; and Krista Suh ’09, screenwriter, novelist, artist, activist, and creator of the Pussyhat Project.
Finally, the Distinguished Alumna Awards were given to Edna M. Conway ’79, a leader in the cybersecurity industry who received numerous awards and accolades and lent her expertise to a number of important government initiatives; and Marsha E. Simms ’74, who has served in numerous high posts in education and finance, including being the first woman to hold the Chief Financial Officer position in a major U.S. utility (Con Edison).
On Saturday morning, Barnard alumnae from a diverse range of careers comprised the panel Successes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Moderator Chinita Allen ’94 posed questions to the panelists about how their Barnard education helped shape their career paths and gave them the confidence to enter male-dominated fields.
Both Danielle Lahmani ’84, an engineering technical project manager at Bloomberg LP, and Nieca Goldberg ’79, a cardiologist and medical director at the NYU Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, emphasized how important liberal arts are to a STEM career. Lahmani said diversity of thought is sought after in technology, new ideas are discussed in depth, and different points of view are essential.Panelists spoke about the importance of mentors and being open to asking questions and receiving information. “The more you talk, the more you share, the more you learn,” said Rosemary Bates ’04, director of design and construction at Rockefeller Group.
Now in its 15th year as part of Barnard Reunion, the storytelling event “Bring It Back to Barnard,” produced by the Peabody Award-winning organization The Moth, again delighted a capacity audience on Saturday afternoon. Hosted by writer-comedian JiJi Lee ’01, the event featured three alumnae detailing experiences at Barnard College that affected their lives.
Dr. Bonnie Oh ’59 spoke of being unsatisfied as a student at Seoul National University in her native South Korea and secretly researching U.S. universities. She applied and was accepted to Barnard, Radcliffe, and Vassar, and she chose Barnard — not telling her parents until after she received the acceptance letters. She arrived at Brooks Hall in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 1956, after traveling for four days. House mother Harriet Benson greeted her with a warm hug, which made her feel at home.
Oh, who is now retired distinguished professor of Korean studies at Georgetown University, said Barnard gave her confidence she could do anything a man can do, even better. “Barnard helped me live my life to the fullest,” she said.
Shoshana Greenberg ’04 fell in love with New York City during a visit at age 7 and described her freshman year as a time where she and her friends made NYC their playground. Sadly, early in the fall semester of her sophomore year, the events of 9/11 changed that. They struggled through that year and stayed near campus, but before they headed home at the end of spring semester, Greenberg and her friends went on an adventure to Greenwich Village. Returning to campus after an insightful visit to a psychic, they felt renewed.
“I realized I would never get that New York of my childhood back, and we realized we would never get this Barnard of the first year back, but we could have a new New York,” said Greenberg, a freelance musical theater and opera lyricist/librettist and theater journalist who also works in office services and administration at Two Sigma Investments.
While at Barnard, Leslie Kantor ’89 founded AIDS Peer Educators, a student-run HIV/AIDS education program geared toward women. Raised by legal services attorneys, Kantor learned to speak up about issues. She is now chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at Rutgers School of Public Health. “Barnard was the training ground for learning to speak up and learning to speak up effectively,” said Kantor.
To close out the weekend, alumnae danced to their favorite tunes, toasted one another, and celebrated Barnard on the Ellen V. Futter ’71 Field, where two special AABC awards were bestowed at the Closing Dinner.
The Woman of Achievement Award went to Linda Yellen ’69, who has inspired and entertained for over 50 years as an award-winning director, writer, and producer; and the Young Alumna Award went to Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04, activist, scholar, writer, and poet, whom Teen Vogue has called a “black feminist hero.”
President Beilock announced The Bold Standard: Raising the Bar, a continuation of Barnard’s historic Bold Standard campaign, which will focus on four institutional priorities that align with President Beilock’s vision for the future of the College: STEM at Barnard, Social Mobility, Beyond Barnard, and Health and Wellness.
To introduce the campaign extension, President Beilock showed a video of four students discussing how these initiatives will enhance the student experience and lay the groundwork for her vision.
"Our young women are strong and fearless,” she said, “and on their way to becoming visionaries and trailblazers. What better time to reach to new heights?"
— LOIS ELFMAN ’80