Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock addressed students, faculty, and alumnae publicly for the first time, discussing the importance of a liberal arts education in today’s political climate at the college’s Convocation on Tuesday.
Beilock began as president in July after the unexpected departure of former president Debora Spar in March.
In her speech, Beilock, a cognitive scientist and former Stella M. Rowley Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago,said she was “awed” to be at Barnard.
“Truth told, I find myself needing to take a moment to catch my breath,” Beilock said. “Here I am, standing at this podium in full regalia, inside the soaring nave of Riverside Church, as the president of Barnard College. That is a humbling and staggering realization.”
Beilock’s speech differed dramatically from Spar’s first convocation speech in 2008. While Spar used the address as an opportunity to establish her vision for the college—which she later presented more formally in 2011—Beilock used her speech as an opportunity to recognize students and acknowledge the important role that a Barnard education plays.
In September of 1950, the College was in the midst of the Korean War, said Beilock. She noted that Millicent McIntosh, then Dean of the College, told students at Convocation that it was up to them to choose “the kind of civilization America stands for,” and that today, students are faced with the same choice.
“So we come together on this remarkable September afternoon to celebrate the start of the academic year and to affirm our responsibility, as a community, to really count for something,” Beilock said.
At Barnard, faculty teach students the skills necessary to live impactful lives, such as risk-taking, building connections, and thinking critically across disciplinary boundaries, Beilock noted.
“I am a scientist. But I wouldn’t be a very good one without the liberal arts education I received,” Beilock said. “It’s not just the laboratory that allowed me to do my best thinking. It has always been a much broader, more holistic view of how people behave and what makes us tick.”
Carol Dweck, BC ’67, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor at Stanford University, delivered the keynote address focusing on the power of one’s mindset. A leading researcher in the field of motivation, Dweck discussed the process of developing one’s potential, one that for her took place at Barnard.
“Please keep asking yourself, ‘Who do I want to become? What role do I want to play in the world of today and tomorrow?’” Dweck said. “And then think about the great resources and opportunities at Barnard that can help you become that person, slowly but surely, overtime.”
Asela Eatenson, BC ’20, said she was impressed by Beilock’s speech.
“I felt really inspired,” Eatenson said. “I feel really privileged and lucky to be here and around her.”
President of the Alumnae Association Jyoti Menon, BC ’01, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees, said she was excited as an alumna to work with Beilock this coming year and that her speech was well delivered.
“I think it is great for President Beilock,” Menon said. “I thought it was a great speech connected to the history of Barnard … and the amazing place that it is.”
Jodi Lessner contributed reporting.