NEW YORK, Mar. 3, 2020 Barnard College announced today that Christiane Amanpour, the award-winning journalist and host of CNN’s “Amanpour,” will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2020 at Barnard College’s 128th Commencement on May 18, 2020. Amanpour will receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, for her stellar work in journalism and advocacy for human rights and journalists’ rights. Barnard will also award medals to Allyson Felix, the American track and field sprinter; Okwui Okpokwasili, the multidisciplinary writer, performer and choreographer; and Myriam Sarachik ’54, the physicist and professor at City College of the City University of New York.

Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock will preside over the ceremony, present the degree candidates, confer the Medals of Distinction and address an expected audience of 3,500 family, friends, faculty and staff. The ceremony will begin at 4:00 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“I am delighted that Christiane Amanpour will speak to our 2020 graduates,” said President Beilock. "By asking tough questions of world leaders and through her courageous reporting, Ms. Amanpour shines a light on the critical issues impacting the world, and I believe her words of empowerment will support our newest alumnae as they journey beyond Barnard. Alongside Christiane Amanpour, Okwui Okpokwasili, Myriam Sarachik and Allyson Felix symbolize Barnard’s enduring commitment to academic excellence and advocacy, and I am honored to present these remarkable women with the College’s Medal of Distinction.”      

Amanpour also offered sage advice to graduating students: “Set yourself on the path of purpose and mission. Take your great education and unique experience and put that towards really making our world a better place. And always make sure you demand equal pay for equal play!”

This year’s graduates will also hear words from Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82, chair of the Barnard College Board of Trustees, who has shown professional and personal commitments to the College . The Cheryl and Philip Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning at Barnard College opened in the fall of 2018 and is home to the College’s library and interdisciplinary educational opportunities in design, computational science, digital humanities, media, empirical reasoning and movement. 

In recent years, Barnard’s Commencement speakers have included President Barack Obama, actress Viola Davis, soccer star and equal-pay advocate Abby Wambach, 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

Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour is CNN's chief international anchor of the network's award-winning, flagship global affairs program "Amanpour," which launched in 2009 and also airs on PBS in the United States. She is based in the network's London bureau.

Beginning in 1983 as an entry-level assistant on the international assignment desk at CNN's headquarters in Atlanta, Amanpour rose through the organization becoming a reporter at the New York bureau, and later, the network's leading international correspondent. Amanpour's fearless and uncompromising approach made her popular with audiences, and a force to be reckoned with by global influencers — in 1996,
Newsweek said that her reporting from conflict hotspots in the Gulf and the Balkans had helped make CNN “must-see TV for world leaders.” She has also reported from the aftermath of many humanitarian crises, including the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina, where she visited a community center which had been converted to a makeshift morgue for victims of the storm.

From the 1991 Gulf War to the 2003 American-led invasion, Amanpour has documented the bloody violence which has marked Iraq's recent history. In 2004, she also reported exclusively from the courtroom at the trial of Saddam Hussein, where the former dictator, disheveled and in chains, was eventually sentenced to death for crimes against humanity. On the ground during the siege of Sarajevo, Amanpour exposed the brutality of the Bosnian War, reporting on the daily tragedy of life for civilians in the city. She was outspoken, calling out the human rights abuses, massacres and genocide committed against the Bosnian Muslims, later saying, "There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice."

Throughout her time at CNN, Amanpour has secured exclusive interviews with world leaders and decision makers on the issues affecting the world today. In the wake of the September 11 attacks she was the first international correspondent to interview British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and Afghan president Hamid Karzai. During the height of the Arab Spring she conducted an Emmy-winning interview with Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi; she was also the last journalist to interview Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak just before he was deposed. She has also spoken with Iranian president Hassan Rouhan after his landslide election victory, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff following her country's defeat in the 2014 World Cup semi-final, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro regarding the violent demonstrations in his country, and Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev as he attempted to justify his government’s support for the Assad regime in Syria.

In addition to her work as an anchor and reporter, Amanpour is an active rights campaigner. A board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Centre for Public Integrity and the International Women's Media Foundation, she has used her profile to raise awareness of key global issues and journalists' rights. She has interviewed educational rights activist Malala Yousafzai for CNN on several occasions, bringing focus to her courage and international advocacy work. In May 2014 she used an appearance on BBC television to raise awareness of the plight of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram — asking British Prime Minister David Cameron to join the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Amanpour has earned every major television journalism award including twelve News and Documentary Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, three duPont-Columbia Awards and the Courage in Journalism Award. She has received nine honorary degrees, was named a CBE — the highest ranking Order of the British Empire award — and was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2018. She is an honorary citizen of Sarajevo and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of the Press and the Safety of Journalists.

Amanpour graduated summa cum laude from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

Allyson Felix

Born on November 18, 1985, Allyson Felix grew up in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Paul, is an ordained minister who was an excellent sprinter as a teen. She inherited her long legs from her school teacher mother, Marlean. Allyson followed her older brother Wes into the sport, although she did not try out for the track team until her ninth-grade year at Los Angeles Baptist High School in North Hills. At her first practice Coach Jonathon Patton asked her to run 40 meters and thought he must have mis-measured the distance when he saw Allyson’s time. He re-measured and asked her to run again, and she did, with the same results. Just ten weeks after that tryout, Allyson was racing at the California State Finals.

Allyson went on to accomplish impressive feats over her high school career. She broke Marion Jones’ high school 200-meter record by running 22.51 seconds at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April 2003. Weeks later, Felix turned in an even more impressive performance when she competed in the Banamex Grand Prix in Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium and ran a blazing 22.11 second 200-meter race, which was a new world record in the under-20 category. 

Felix emerged as the new American female sprinter to watch and has never looked back, winning three Gold Medals in the 2012 London Olympic Games and following that up in 2016 with two more Gold Medals and another Silver Medal. Under the tutelage of Coach Bob Kersee, she has won a total of 9 Olympic Medals and 18 World Championships and is the most decorated track and field athlete in history. 

She continues to dig deep and find new goals to motivate and drive her. At this stage of her career Allyson has found passions off the track which she believes are her true calling. She loves children and serves as a member of the Right To Play board, hoping to raise awareness for underserved children in developing regions. Her determination is now carrying over to the business sector where she is an investor in a plant-based protein bar company and serves as an advisor to a fitness technology startup. She has hosted a wrap-up series for an Emmy-winning prime-time show on NBC. Most recently, Allyson stood before Congress in efforts to bring awareness to the black maternal mortality crisis in the US and has joined Athleta, a certified B Corp, as a professional athlete and activist to continue empowering women and girls through their values and work within their communities. 

Allyson has accomplished so much, but her greatest accomplishment and her greatest love is her daughter Camryn, who reminds her every day that she can never stop fighting for what is right in this world. She continues to strive for greatness in all areas reminding us that we all can achieve things we never dreamed of.

Myriam Sarachik '54

Myriam Morgenstein Sarachik ’54 was born in Antwerp, Belgium and attended primary school in Antwerp and Havana, followed by the Bronx High School of Science in New York. She earned an A.B. cum laude from Barnard College in 1954 and a Ph.D. in 1960 from Columbia University. After working as a research associate at IBM Watson Laboratories and at Bell Telephone Laboratories, she joined the faculty of the City College of the City University of New York (CCNY) in 1964, where she rose through the ranks to become a Distinguished Professor.

Sarachik is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society (APS), the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1995 she received the New York City Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). She was awarded a 2004 Sloan Public Service Award from the Fund for the City of New York, the 2005 APS Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics, and was named the 2005 L’Oreal/UNESCO
For Women in Science Laureate for North America. She received an honorary degree from Amherst College in 2006 and recently received the 2020 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research.

Sarachik established a low-temperature laboratory at CCNY where, with students and postdocs, she investigated the behavior of solids near absolute zero. In addition to research and teaching, she has been active in defending the human rights of scientists, as advisor to government science agencies and local and foreign universities, and as a member of visiting committees and governing bodies of scientific organizations. She served as Vice-President, President-Elect, President and Immediate Past President of APS from 2001 through 2004 and as a member of the governing Council of the National Academy from 2008 through 2010.

Read a profile of Sarachik in Barnard Magazine.


Okwui Okpokwasili. Photo credit Peter Born, 2014

Okwui Okpokwasili is a Brooklyn-based writer, performer, and choreographer who creates multidisciplinary performance pieces that seek to shape and amplify the shared psychic space the audience and performer inhabit, and, through centering the African/African American feminine, to illuminate universal human conditions.

Her productions, created in collaboration with acclaimed designer Peter Born, are highly experimental in form, bringing together elements of dance, theater, and the visual arts. Okpokwasili and Born’s first New York production, “Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance,” premiered at Performance Space 122 and received a 2010 New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) for Outstanding Production. Their second collaboration, “Bronx Gothic,” premiered at Danspace Project as part of the COIL Festival at Performance Space New York, won a 2014 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production, toured nationally and internationally, is the subject of a documentary film directed by Andrew Rossi, and was recently performed at the Young Vic Theater in London in a month-long run in 2019. Currently touring works include “Poor People’s TV Room,” which premiered at New York Live Arts in 2017; “Adaku’s Revolt,” which premiered in 2019 at Abrons Art Center; and “Sitting on a Man’s Head,” which appeared at the 2018 Berlin Biennale and the 2019 CounterCurrent Festival in Houston. 

Okpokwasili frequently collaborates with award-winning director Ralph Lemon. She has appeared as an actor in many productions including works by Nora Chipaumire, Julie Taymor, Young Jean Lee, Richard Foreman and Richard Maxwell. Most recently, Okpokwasili performed as the Lady in Green at the Public Theater in for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Film credits include Her Composition, Knut Åsdam’s Abyss, The Interpreter, The Hoax, I Am Legend, and Madeline’s Madeline. Okpokwasili is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. 

She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award, a 2018 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, a 2018 United States Artist Fellowship, and a 2018 Herb Alpert Award. Her performance work has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Danspace Project, Performance Space New York, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, the 10th Annual Berlin Biennale, Jacob’s Pillow, and New York Live Arts, where she was a Randjelovic/Stryker Resident Commissioned Artist. Her first album, day pulls down the sky, was produced by Danspace Project and released in February 2020.