Staff Writer Kate Mekechuk attended Barnard College’s annual Convocation at the Nave of Riverside Church.

Last year, I attended my first Barnard Convocation as a novice freshman, excited to partake in the College’s traditions. The pews were packed with first years and seniors who luckily were permitted to attend Convocation in-person, creating laughter and noise that filled the massively tall cathedral with Barnard spirit. Sophomores and juniors, however, crowded classrooms to join a Zoom call. Every student that day, no matter if they were in Riverside Church or on campus, was wearing their class shirt. Back in the church, as the processional opening began, eager students waved at President Beilock as she walked down the aisle, watching her smile through her mask and wave back at the adoring crowd. Each speaker was welcomed with a wholehearted applause from the audience. Every second of this long standing tradition was appreciated and absorbed by each participating member.

This year was a bit different.

The pews had about six or seven people in each one, class colors splattered across half the students. Friends sat in groups of two or three. Conversation, although seeming to be prevalent among everyone, created only a muted background noise.

Professor Buzzeo, over the loudspeaker, interrupted the crowd. As he spoke, Bridgerton-like music filled the hall, and the procession of distinguished administrators, faculty, and members of the College community walked down the aisle. After a long moment, the crowd unconfidently clapped. No one seemed to know whether or not noise was allowed. 

A run-down of individual speeches:

  • Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82 P ’14 was the first to speak. As Chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, she wished everyone a wonderful academic year, mentioning how remarkable it is to attend the College in the 21st century. 
  • Amy Veltman ’89, President of the AABC and Alumna Trustee, directed her speech to the Class of 2026, welcoming them into the comforting Barnard community. 
  • Cinneah El-Amin ’16, Chair of the Young Alumnae Committee, followed Veltman’s footsteps, this time welcoming all students back to campus. 
  • Provost Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, reminded all affiliates to “major in learning” (a phrase seared into Barnard student minds from NSOP).
  • Dean Tedder, Dean for Academic Planning and Class Advising, highlighted the unique connection Barnard students have with faculty members.
  • Tiffany Vo ’23, SGA President, received two rounds of applause from the audience. During her speech, she noted that this is only the “second full year on campus” for seniors, painfully reminding her class about their lost time due to the pandemic.
  • Grace Boyan ’24 and Katerina Kaganovich ’24 recited the Honor Code. A few mumbling whispers–mainly from the freshman section–joined them.
  • Bacchantae sang before President Beilock’s address. Their voices were as soft as the love in the College’s spirit, and their singing felt like drinking a warm hot chocolate in Hewitt on an early winter morning. After their performance, they received the largest applause at the event.
  • President Beilock thanked the group and began her speech. There was no distinction between the cheers for Bacchantae and the introductory clapping for Beilock. Unfortunately, to the members in the crowd, PrezBae’s enthusiasm for the College was nonexistent. The storyteller who once gave a Ted Talk quickly read her script in a monotone voice, sparsely stopping to address and speak to her audience.
  • Ayana Byrd ’95 was the keynote speaker. However, she tested positive for COVID and was unable to attend Convocation. Jamiyla Chisholm, Director of Creative Content, presented Byrd’s speech, speaking in a soothing voice one would find on Audible. Byrd’s speech was demonstrative of the Barnard spirit: she wrote of the high academic expectations, the College’s mission of centering women and supporting all identities, and–most importantly–the students’ desire to be fashion forward. These core values of the College, as Byrd wrote, allowed her to explore the intersectionality of beauty, womanhood, and race, leading her to write and publish her first book a mere six years after graduating from Barnard.
  • Professor Rojas closed the ceremony by reminding all students that we will be ok throughout the stress, the struggles, and the hardships both life and college may throw at us.

Overall, Barnard’s 2022 Convocation was disappointing. The air was stolid and somber at some moments while seemingly teeming with life only when students were authorized to leave to the Block Party. That said, Byrd’s speech illustrates the best parts about Barnard culture and reminded me about why I chose Barnard: because, to quote the keynote speaker, “what I thought was important, was.” Figure skaters can become opera singers. A haircut can start a new wave of feminism. The College builds us into Barnard Thinkers, ready to go out into the world, prepared for the “unexpected next,” and set to create the future we want to see.

Riverside Church via the Bwarchives