Laura Rosenbury wearing the Chain of Office after Inauguration 2024

Beginning in 1976, and each year since at every presidential inauguration, Convocation, and Commencement, every Barnard president has worn a mysterious and weighty seal of bling — a medallion made of bronze, gold, and silver that hangs from a beaded chain of lapis lazuli and silver beads. (Read: The Inauguration of President Laura Rosenbury)

It’s the President’s Chain of Office, and it has been in use since 1976, when it was worn for the first time by President Jacquelyn Mattfeld. Given as a gift from the Board of Trustees for each new president, it is both an insignia of office and a welcoming gesture for the inauguration of Barnard’s new leader.

President Medal

President Jacquelyn Mattfeld, 1976

In 1976, President Mattfeld was the first to wear the new presidential seal, placed around her neck by Board of Trustees Chair Eleanor Elliott (left). 

President Judith Shapiro, 1994

“The inauguration is an emotional heightening that comes when all the sacred symbols of community are mobilized. The faculties wear their ritual gowns; I get the official Barnard medal put around my neck.”

President Sian Leah Beilock, 2018

“Inauguration is a moment to reflect on what this College has been and to imagine what it can become. We cannot look forward without looking back or build a future without understanding the past. It is hard to aspire without perspective.”

The Details

The 23-inch-long chain includes 18 lapis lazuli beads and eight pearl pendants set in silver. The 3¼-inch-wide baroque-style medallion includes seven blue beads: blue for Barnard and Columbia, and seven to signify the seven chief executives of Barnard prior to President Mattfeld’s inauguration on November 5, 1976.


The medallion was fashioned by sculptor and Rhode Island School of Design professor Merlin Szäsz, who designed medallions for several organizations, including Albany’s City Hall. Barnard’s medallion features the head of Athena over an owl’s head, taken from the College seal that was adopted in 1902. The entire fabrication process took Szäsz about 11 months to complete.


Inscribed on the reverse side are two mottoes. One is Barnard’s motto — “Pursuing Reason” — in Greek. The other is in Latin and translates as “The president of Barnard wears me.” This seal is thus a visible and symbolic emblem of Barnard’s history and commitment to the College’s traditions, principles, and hopes.

The presidential medallion’s past (and present) owners:

President Jacquelyn Mattfeld

1976 - 1980
President Ellen V. Futter 1981 -1993

President Judith R. Shapiro

1994 - 2007

President Debora L. Spar 2008 - 2016
President Sian Leah Beilock 2018-2023

President Laura Ann Rosenbury