In one of Barnard College’s favorite traditions, this year’s Convocation ceremony took place on September 12, 2017, in the majestic and historic Riverside Church. Hundreds of students, trustees, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, and alumnae going back to the Class of 1938 participated in this college-wide celebration. Nearly 70 alumnae class officers marched in the ceremonial procession dressed in academic regalia and carrying class flags, cheered on by new and returning students.
This year, Convocation marked not only the beginning of a new academic year. It also ushered in a new era for the College under the leadership of Sian Beilock, the College’s eighth president. President Beilock was most recently executive vice provost of the University of Chicago. A cognitive psychologist, she is an expert on how children and adults learn and perform at their best, especially under stress.
President Beilock spoke about the value of the liberal arts for all students because “through the lens of the liberal arts, you are actually freeing your mind—liberating it, if you will, from a more compartmentalized way of viewing the world. You can take risks and make connections. You can think critically and cross disciplinary boundaries. You can engage in difficult dialogue and debate and consider multiple perspectives. And you can openly pursue knowledge for its own sake and not as the means to an end. These are essential skills today and always…but definitely today.”
President Beilock added that she is a scientist, but “I wouldn’t be a very good one without the liberal arts education I received. … My research on performance anxiety and why things often go wrong when the pressure is on was fueled by classes in anthropology, sociology, history, and the visual arts. It’s not just the laboratory that allowed me to do my best thinking. It has always been a much broader, more holistic view of how people behave and what makes us tick. And I imagine that, like all of us, sometimes I had to fail to figure out how to get things right.”
Keynote speaker Carol Dweck ’67, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, discussed the process of becoming and how to develop one’s potential. She explained that intelligence is elastic and can be developed, and that as opposed to a mindset of fixed intelligence, a “growth mindset” enables people to seek more challenges, show more resilience, and achieve at a higher level when facing difficulty.
Dweck encouraged the students to move beyond the high school pressure of getting A’s. “Sure, you want to do well,” Dweck said, “but please know that getting A’s is not your main job here. Your main job is to use the tremendous resources of this great college and university and to become the person you want to be—the person who, over time, will make your unique contribution to your world and the people in it.”
“Please keep asking yourself,” Dweck concluded, “’Who do I want to become? What role do I want to play in the world of today and tomorrow?’ And then think about the great resources and opportunities at Barnard that can help you become that person, slowly but surely, over time.”
Angela Beam ’18, president of the Student Government Association, encouraged the student body to be as engaged as possible in campus conversations and activism. She said, “Under our new president’s leadership, we hope Barnard will set an example for institutions across the globe by consistently speaking up for what is right, by taking action when necessary, and by remembering our identity as a women’s college—as we lift up those of non-dominant identities.”
In 2014, when Barnard celebrated its 125th anniversary, the College began the tradition of inviting not only first-year students but the entire Barnard community to kick off the academic year. Among the participating alumnae was Ellen O'Brien Saunders, '63, who traveled to Barnard from Washington State to represent her class as Class Officer. "I love seeing my classmates and also the younger alumnae and the students. It's wonderful to see the vitality on campus."
Students from first-years to seniors took part, wearing special t-shirts for the occasion. Class of 2021 student Ellie Harrison said, "I have sisters who have gone to Barnard and it's a tradition in our family that you go to Barnard and you come out totally ready to go, a fired-up woman, and that's the image I associate with Barnard. Convocation is a really cool way to start the year and a really cool way to get everyone ready to go."
Convocation was a moment of community, unity, and excitement over new beginnings.
Watch comments from keynote speaker Carol Dweck '67, students, alumnae memories and the full Convocation ceremony.