The keynote speaker and Medal of Distinction recipients at Barnard’s 2019 Commencement ceremony have been announced.

This morning, President Sian Beilock and Co-Interim Deans Alicia Lawrence and Natalie Friedman announced that the keynote speaker at Barnard College’s 127th Commencement ceremony will be Viola Davis. Davis is an award-winning actress, producer, and activist known for her work in amplifying the voices of women of color both on- and off-screen. In addition to speaking at the ceremony, Davis will receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor.

Also receiving the Barnard Medal of Distinction at this ceremony will be Sana Amanat, BC ’04, VP of Content & Character Development at Marvel Comics and best known for co-creating the Muslim-American superhero character Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel); Cherríe Moraga, an internationally recognized poet, essayist, and playwright; and Shirley Adelson Siegel, BC ’37, the former New York State Solicitor General and a human rights attorney who has advocated for the civil rights and fair housing of New York residents throughout her long career. Full biographies of all four Medal of Distinction recipients are available on Barnard’s website.

The Commencement ceremony will take place on Monday, May 20, at Radio City Music Hall. In addition to the keynote address, graduates will hear from Cheryl Glicker Milstein, BC ’82, Chair of the Barnard College Board of Trustees.

Read the full email announcement below.


Dear Barnard Seniors and Barnard Community,

It is our pleasure to announce the distinguished speaker and medalists for Commencement 2019. We are honored that acclaimed actor, producer, and humanitarian Viola Davis will deliver the keynote address and receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Ms. Davis is the first black actor to have won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. Throughout her extraordinary career, she has portrayed complex characters with honesty and heart, and, in both her work and her life, she has been a fearless voice for women, women of color, and all who deserve to be seen and heard.

Joining our speaker and medalist, Viola Davis, will be three other medalists who also embody Barnard’s commitment to academic excellence and to making a difference in the world. The medalists are: Shirley Adelson Siegel ’37, pioneering civil rights attorney and fair housing advocate; Sana Amanat ’04, vice president for content and character development at Marvel Comics and creator of the first Muslim superhero; and Cherríe Moraga, internationally recognized poet, playwright, essayist and memoirist.

Thanks are due to the Medalist Committee for their help in selecting our honorees, as well as to those who participated in the Commencement speaker conversations.

Read full bios of the medalists here.

Barnard’s 127th Commencement will take place on Monday, May 20, 2019, at 4:00 p.m., at Radio City Music Hall. Before the ceremony, the Class of 2019 will gather on campus for a celebratory reception with friends, family, and faculty. Bus transportation to Radio City Music Hall will be provided for all graduates, departing from Barnard at 2:15 p.m.

The University Commencement will take place on the morning of Wednesday, May 22. More information and updates about both Commencement ceremonies will be posted over the next several weeks at

We very much look forward to celebrating the spectacular achievements of the Barnard Class of 2019 on Monday, May 20.


Sian Leah Beilock

Alicia Lawrence and Natalie Friedman
Co-Interim Deans of the College

Viola Davis via Barnard press release