Soccer star Abby Wambach gave the class of 2018 four rules to be a successful leader and advocate in her keynote address at Barnard Commencement at Radio City Music Hall Wednesday evening.
She reminded the graduating seniors to make failure their fuel, to lead from the bench, to champion each other, and to demand the ball.
“At this moment in history leadership is calling us to say, ’Give me the f-ing ball,” Wambach said. “’Give me the f-ing job, give me the same pay the guy next to me gets, give me the promotion, give me the microphone, give me the oval office! Give me the respect I’ve earned and give it to my wolf pack too.”
With 184 goals, Wambach is the world record-holder for international goals among both female and male soccer players. Her many achievements also include two Olympic gold medals and the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship.
As Wambach announced her retirement in 2015, she spoke on how terrifying the transition into the unknown can be. But when she was on the ESPYS stage receiving an award, alongside Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning, she realized she needed to aim her attention at being an advocate.
“We all made the same sacrifices, shed the same amount of blood, sweat and tears. But our retirements wouldn’t be the same at all because Kobe and Peyton walked away from their careers with something I didn’t have. Enormous bank accounts. And because of that they had something else I didn’t have: freedom,” Wambach said. “Over time the pay gap means women invest less, save less, so they have to work longer. So, when we talk about what the pay gap costs us, let’s be clear. It costs us our very lives.”
Wambach talked about how she had spent most of her life being grateful for what she was being given and never speaking up or demanding more. She compared herself to Little Red Riding Hood, whom Wambach described as a rule-follower until she became curious and encountered trouble in the form of a wolf.
“The message is clear: don’t be curious, don’t make trouble, don’t say too much or bad things will happen,” Wambach said. “I stayed on the path because of fear: of being cut, being benched, losing my paycheck. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be this, ‘Abby, you were never little red riding hood, you were always the wolf.’... Barnard women, class of 2018, we are the wolves.”
Citations and medals of distinctions were presented to other women who have been proverbial wolves in their fields, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen, BC ’74, National Resource Defense Council President Rhea Suh, BC ’92, and mathematician Katherine Johnson.
Barnard President Sian Beilock visited Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician whose work as a NASA employee was critical to the success of the first U.S. manned space flights, at her home in Virginia in February and presented her with the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the college’s highest honor.
“Mrs. Johnson, you are an American hero… along with anyone anywhere who’s had to walk half a mile to use a bathroom or has boldly stepped out of the shadows to make a difference,” Beilock said. “We can’t calculate path that our students will take after they graduate to follow their dreams, but we know that your remarkable story will inspire them however it is to get there.”
Student speakers included Armoni Moody, BC ’18, and senior class president Ambika Mookerjee.
Moody began with an anecdote of her and her friends making a casual plan to visit a drag show later in the evening that evolved into a full discussion of the dynamic of heterosexual women attending them.
“I share the story to communicate the type of intellectuality that Barnard develops within its students,” Moody said. “Barnard women are constantly internalizing and investigating and interrogating what they see around them.”
Mookerjee encouraged her fellow classmates to embrace the future with excitement and to not lament over their college years being over.
“I challenge us all to embrace our futures with excitement and not dread… How do we enter this new chapter of our lives with gusto and energy and not look back at college with rose-colored glasses?… Let’s not succumb to those moments where we feel like everything we could have possibly enjoyed or achieved is over and it’s too late... Because that’s actually the beauty of the new chapter of life that we have begun, the best years of our lives are behind us, they are a part of us.”
Beilock also encouraged the graduating seniors to embrace the future, however uncertain, knowing that the tools they have been given by Barnard will help them navigate it.
“I hope that you remember that it’s okay not to know everything that is about to come, that is part of the beauty of life. The effort and passion and drive combined with uncertainty, keeps things interesting,” Beilock said. “Class of 2018, not just because you have made it through college, but because you have made it through this college ... at Barnard we have given you the knowledge and the tools to take the next steps in life but we have not laid out a precise path for your future.”