Barnard College's Convocation 2020
Convocation 2020

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

The country’s sustained battle with the COVID-19 pandemic has forced social distancing to continue, but it didn’t stop the College from celebrating its annual Convocation ceremony. In fact, this year, because it was streamed on YouTube, more members of the Barnard community than ever were able to attend this milestone event that officially recognizes the start of the new academic season. While located in different cities, states, and countries around the world, hundreds of students, trustees, faculty, staff, alumnae — and parents, a first in Barnard’s history — gathered to welcome first-year, transfer, and returning students as they begin the next chapter in their journey at Barnard.

Another first was President Sian Leah Beilock’s ability to speak directly to the community about her vision and excitement for the upcoming year. In doing so, she encouraged all students  to leverage their passion and intellectual curiosity to tackle big problems and make the changes they want to see in the world. She also spoke about new initiatives at the College that are designed to help them do exactly that. 

“To meet the unprecedented moment that we’re in, and the commitment to civic engagement that it demands, Barnard has launched ThirdSpace@,” Beilock says in the video above. “ThirdSpace@ is about answering the questions: What can we learn from the work of others? How do we tackle this need for change through the lens of equity and inclusion?”

To honor tradition and set the tone for the coming year, the keynote speaker, visionary journalist and author Suki Kim ’92, then welcomed the new student body. Kim, who lived and worked undercover in North Korea — then wrote about her experience in the bestselling book Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite — gave a powerful and personal speech about activism and empathy for oneself and others. 

“This unprecedented year of college will shape you for the rest of your lives,” Kim said. “Read everything, write down everything, observe everything. Be the witness of this time, and use it later for the world which you will lead. Empathy begins with you, here, now, because this challenge is just the beginning.”

In her remarks, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Linda Bell invoked the language of community care and generosity as a foundation that Barnard helps students build. Cheryl Milstein ’82 P’14, chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees, reinforced these sentiments, highlighting how the entire Barnard community is there to support current students as they grow and learn. “As beautiful as the campus is, and as fun as New York City can be — and don’t worry, they’re both still there waiting for your return — it’s the people, the ideas, the work, and the friendships at Barnard that ultimately matter the most and that make Barnard the best college in the world,” said Milstein. 

Amanda Gates-Elston ’04, associate director of events management at the College, who has worked in the events management office for 16 years, proudly delivered the staff greeting, while Dean of the College Leslie Grinage charged each of the four Class Years with different goals that all circled back to caring for others – and ourselves. 

Tirzah Anderson ‘21, Student Government Association president, spoke about SGA’s increased focus around equity, justice, and inclusion. Anderson stressed SGA’s commitment to build a strong virtual community for everyone at the College so that all students are represented.

To experience Barnard’s first-ever Virtual Convocation 2020, watch the video above. View the Program for Convocation 2020 here.