A torrential downpour unfortunately forced Barnard to hold its Class Day not in Grant’s Tomb as planned, but in Levien Gym, high-school style. Still, the ceremony went swimmingly. As the graduates entered and parents beamed, it was clear no one really cared about the venue switch. For about 3 rounds of Pomp and Circumstance, the Barnard ladies processed—some enthusiastically waving at their loved ones and a few other cool cats trying to suppress their smiles. One father in the front row, overcome with pride, briefly interrupted the procession to embrace his daughter.

Reni Calister

After opening remarks from DSpar, who looked— dare we say—sparkling, and a few other important folks, Senior Class President Reni Calister approached the podium. “I can’t finish anything,” Calister declared with pitch-perfect delivery. “At the exact moment when I feel totally at home and have found a way to live solely off of Barnard catering…we must transition from comfort to chaos.” “The injustice!” she exclaimed. Reni recalled witnessing a frantic first-year order her caffeinated concoction at Liz’s Place. The girl’s manic response to the cashier’s simple “how are you?” prompted his grounded reply: “you ladies just don’t know when to stop.” “I finally realized I needed to stop,” Calister said. Among all the tried and true graduation speeches about striving and succeeding, Reni’s plea to “stop, breathe, reflect….and let yourselves be a little more human” was remarkably refreshing. “Be kind to yourselves,” Calister concluded, “you have grown into women of whom you should be proud.”

Lara Avsar

The following speech by SGA President, Lara Avsar, couldn’t have been more different. “Today is not a time to be sentimental,” Avsar harshly opened, while Reni had just conceded that this sentimentality was her new “favorite pastime.” (The glaring contradictions were almost funny, but who says graduation can’t be a marketplace of ideas?) Though Reni preached the virtues of stopping, Avsar was all about movement. “Dive into the world without apology and maybe do a flip on the way down,” she urged. Lara spoke of her quest to rid herself of the middle name, “quit,” given by her grandmother. “Quit it, Lara,” her “mumsy” snapped to subdue her sass. But, Avsar assured, “we are women who don’t even know the meaning of the world ‘quit.’”

Anna Ziering

Next, Anna Ziering presented her academic reflections (BC doesn’t have valedictorians) on her “girl meets book” love story with Toni Morrison’s Sula. Barnard, she argued, embodies Sula’s “authentic world.” Ziering eloquently explained the Barnard building process: “we started with self-excavation, clearing out old uncertainties. I, for one, felt like the nexus-hole, a gaping cavity that I was assured had great potential but which never seemed to show any real progress.” She charted her “self-construction,” and offered Sula’s words for support: “I got my mind. And what goes on it, which is to say, I got me.”

Sylvia Rhone

The ceremony continued with the presentation of Barnard medals of distinction to music educator Robert Guaspari, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, music exec Sylvia Rhone and, of course, keynote speaker Sheryl Sandberg. While the other awards were presented by faculty, Dueaa Elzin, BC’11 gave a fabulous speech to Sylvia Rhone, the “mastermind of universal Motown.” The president of the legendary Universal Motown Records has “nurtured the talents” of Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Stevie Wonder, among others. Rhone’s one of the most influential people in music, an all-around awesome lady and, for those who are unfamiliar, totally worth googling.

Sheryl Sandberg and DSpar posin'

DSpar gave a charming introduction to keynote speaker Sheryl Sandberg, the former Google exec and current Facebook COO. “Barnard is pleased to call you, if you will confirm, a friend,” Spar joked before Sandberg took the stage.

“We have to admit something sad but true,” Sandberg declared, “men rule the world.” She rattled off some staggering statistics. Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. 15% of women hold corporate America’s top jobs. And none of these numbers has moved in nine years. Given that women became half of college graduates 30 years ago, but haven’t risen to hold 50% of jobs at the top, it seems that our generation holds the responsibility for achieving a truly equal world. Yes, parts of Sandberg’s speech were lifted verbatim from her TED talk, “Why We Have So Few Women Leaders,” but that’s her shpil and, even suffering from laryngitis, she delivered her speech powerfully, barely ever taking her eyes off the audience.

Sandberg insightfully observed how many women grapple with the treacherous “work/life balance” by “quietly leaning back” from the workforce before it’s even necessary to prepare for children. Find work that is “compelling,” she urges, “do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in.”

Sandberg warned at the opening of her speech that the “wonderful men who are here today” may feel “a little uncomfortable.” At least there’s “no line for the men’s room,” she joked. Granted her speech was obviously aimed at women, but if you were a stay-at-home-mom, not straight, or a man, you might have felt a little “uncomfortable.” Indeed, the dudes “leaned in” noticeably less than the strong and beautiful females.

"Congratulations to the magnificent Barnard Class of 2011!"

“Ask a woman why she did well on something,” Sandberg proposes, “and she’ll say ‘I got lucky. All of these great people helped me. I worked really hard.’ Ask a man and he’ll say or think, ‘What a dumb question I’m awesome.’” A boy nearby snickered, “I’m all kinds of awesome right now.” Yes, Sandberg’s comment was a sweeping generalization that got lots of laughs, but she does support her jokes with studies. There’s a negative correlation between success and likability for women and a positive correlation for men. Women attribute their success to outside factors like luck and the people around them, whereas men attribute their success to themselves. In a heterosexual couple working full time, the woman will perform three times the amount of childcare. Plus, men are more ambitious than women— apparently there’s a study for that too. But these facts are so jarring and uncomfortable because they’re true.

“So women need to take a page from men and own their own success,” Sandberg argued. To succeed in this patriarchal society, we have to adopt characteristics of those in power. This train of thought prompted some really interesting conversations at graduation parties about the nature of feminist reform. To what degree do you work within the system to alter it? Furthermore, is this corporate success Sandberg preaches synonymous with personal fulfillment? Many stay-at-home moms to whom Sandberg only briefly acknowledges (“I have deep respect for my friends who choose the really hard job of raising children full time”) may not think so. But back to the speech….

“This world needs you to run it,” Sandberg emphatically addressed the lovely ladies in blue. Don’t let your fear overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face be external not internal.” That’s some inspirational stuff right there, and judging by the uproarious applause Sandberg received, it seems the Barnard seniors agreed.

Double D

The beloved Double D (Former Dean Dorothy Denburg) returned to confer degrees, and a few eager Barnard grads even dared to hug DSpar and Sandberg. “You’re an inspiration,” one senior told Sandberg, as she strut across the stage. “No, you’re the inspiration!” Sandberg fired back.

DSpar closed the ceremony with sentiments similar to Sandberg’s: “make your choices as consciously and as willfully as you can…having the ability to shape your own lives also gives you an obligation to make those lives matter.” She briefly (well, it could have been briefer, but yeah, we felt bad too) lamented the move from Grant’s Tomb to the gym. Unfortunately DSpar will miss his her son’s graduation to attend commencement. Amid all the fancy rhetoric, DSpar’s shoutout was simple and sincere: “Daniel you did good and we’re very proud.” Barnard grads, Bwog thinks you did good too. Forrealz, we’ll miss you gals.

Photos from Barnard