Obama Outshines the Class of 2012, But Puts Spotlight on Barnard

by Olivia Goldman

As we all already know, this year’s commencement was marked with a different kind of excitement. Many here on campus worried that the President speaking at commencement would eclipse the real purpose of the event–to congratulate the class of 2012. As much as I would like to say that this apprehension was never realized, the deep exhale of security measures after the President’s speech, the premature trickling out of guests, and even snarky comments made by Columbia students in the crowd, all suggested that the real climax of the event was not the distribution of diplomas or the tossing of graduate caps. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the commencement of Barnard’s class of 2012 will be talked about for years to come as a huge point of pride and publicity for Barnard.

However, even though 2012 being a presidential election year, commencement was not completely tainted with politics and campaign talk. Despite commencement being overshadowed by sharp shooters on top of Low Library and airport security at every gate, President Obama’s speech did not disappoint. The President’s speech focused on current economic and women’s issues, and was heavy on encouraging the graduates not to shy away from ambition–to run for office, climb corporate ladders, and “to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.” While it’s probably true that the importance of President Obama’s presence transcended that of commencement as expected, he brought in issues of larger magnitude and addressed not only to the 2012 graduates, but all young women and the country at large. What was unexpected was how on point President Obama’s speech was in addressing the entire Barnard community, tapping into the strain of feminism and female empowerment that we so strongly connect to as Barnard students.

Overall though, nothing was able to stifle the giddiness radiating from the graduates and an overwhelming sense of pride from all the students and faculty. “It is somehow surreal,” Chair of Barnard’s Board of Trustees Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald reflected as President Obama sat a few feet away from her on the commencement’s main stage. “But then again it is not surprising. It is Barnard, after all.” Caruso-FitzGerald went on to describe “This close network, this sacred bond” among Barnard students “is what makes a Barnard woman.” This warm sentiment underscored the unified sense of pride and accomplishment that was shared by Barnard women of all classes during commencement. SGA President Jessica Blank appropriately remarked, “Some call it sisterhood, others hashtag it ‘womenhelpingwomen.'”

In fact, the class of 2012 was bubbly to the point of almost erupting. Senior Britney Wilson made a notable (and now famous) display of excitement towards President Obama that included reaching out and giving him a full hug. Speakers made numerous quips towards President Obama that were all met with peals of laughter from the young women in the crowd. Senior Class President Jaclyn D’Aversa remarked to President Obama, in light of the graduating class’ accomplishments, “It is a good thing that one of the 2012 Barnard graduates aren’t running for President this year.” (In response, the President leaned over to Barnard President Debora “DSpar” Spar and whispered, “It’s true.”) Furthermore, President Obama was scarcely able to get through more than a few sentences at a time before the audience broke out in applause or laughter. Notably, when President Obama reminisced about his years at Columbia being marked with popular culture icons such as Michael Jackson, one audience member loudly suggested that President Obama moonwalk for the audience.

Barnard’s Bacchantae singing the Alma Mater

Barnard was unified by much more than Obama’s presence, however, with the distribution of Barnard’s Medal of Distinction to Barnard faculty member Sally Chapman, alumna Helene Gayle ’76, and local but wide-reaching leader Evan Wolfson of the same-sex marriage movement. Students had even more to be proud of, supported by an institution that is home to such remarkable examples of women’s leadership and that recognizes visionary advocates of equality.

Olivia Goldman is a rising junior at Barnard and Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

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