Barnard graduates like Cindy Reyes may have put pictures of their graduation on Facebook, but it’s not every day that Facebook is brought to a graduation. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg gave the keynote address to graduates of Barnard’s class of 2011 on Tuesday afternoon.
“In part because I work in Silicon Valley, let’s just say I’m not usually here with this many women,” Sandberg joked at the ceremony on Tuesday. But although Sandberg began her address with lighthearted anecdotes—like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg asking her, “When do midlife crises happen?”—she quickly adopted a serious tone as she told graduates of the challenge that lie ahead of them as women.
Sandberg cited writers Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, the husband-wife team who authored a best-selling book about opportunities for women, in asserting that the “fundamental challenge of our century is oppression of girls and women around the world.” She recited facts, noting that only 15 percent of top corporate positions in America are occupied by women.
“Men run the world,” Sandberg said. Although Sandberg herself did not graduate from Barnard, she said she has plenty of faith that Barnard graduates could pick up where her generation left off. “It makes it clear that my generation is not going to change this problem. …You are our hope.”
As she told graduates of the negative correlation between power and likability for women, she recalled moments in her own career where she was especially vulnerable to people who said negative things about her.
“I’ve experienced this firsthand when I first joined Facebook. … I cried some when I was alone. I lost a bunch of sleep. At the end my only response was to do my job and to do it well,” Sandberg said. “I told myself that next time, I’m not going to let myself cry. I’m not sure that’s true.”
But while Sandberg spoke of her personal struggles, she only had hope for Barnard graduates. “I hope that each and every one of you have the ambition to run the world, because this world needs you to run it,” Sandberg said. “I’m counting on you.”
Lara Avsar, president of the Student Government Association, spoke of her personal struggle with the word “quit.”
Avsar recalled how that her grandmother added on the word “quit” as her middle name. But while her grandmother added it to get Avsar to stop being sassy, for Avsar, the word “quit” has no meaning for Barnard students.
“We are women who don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘quit,’” Avsar said, “whether it’s surviving a day of papers and dance performances or running around campus trying to get everything done. How else would we be Barnard women?”
While Avsar encouraged her peers to never give up, senior class president Reni Calister advised them to slow down when necessary. She shared a memory of overhearing a frazzled first-year student answer a Liz’s Place cashier’s “How are you?” by recounting her entire to-do list. “The cashier said, ‘You ladies don’t know how to stop,’” Calister said.
Calister advised graduates to stop, breathe, and reflect. “After four years of trying to outdo yourself, you’ll see that perfection is impossible,” Calister said. “My sisters … be kind to yourselves. You have grown into women of whom you should be proud.”
For Katherine Sacks, chair of the senior fund committee, the senior gift was a way to be kind to the graduates’ fellow Barnard students who were staying behind. Sacks said that the senior gift was a contribution to the contingency fund created by the class of 2010. The fund provides aid to students to cover expenses not included in the financial aid package like bedding and books.
The senior class raised over $9,100. Fifty-five percent of the class participated. The contingency fund was also renamed the “Bear Essentials” fund in honor of Barnard’s mascot. “I wish seniors from 2010 could see what a difference they made,” Sacks said.