Former President Obama spoke at the Barnard College 2012 commencement ceremony. He began his speech by comparing the class that sat in front of him to his graduating class of 1983 from Barnard’s sister school, Columbia University.
Much like those of 1983, these young graduates were about to set out into a world where the United States was still recovering from a severe economic recession. A recession which claimed more than five million jobs. They saw their parents putting off their retirement; watched friends who had already graduated struggling to find employment. The picture of their future is concerning and unsure, especially as women in a world that has yet to fully offer equal pay for equal work. Even with the plethora of growth of opportunities for women in the past three decades, there are still so many struggles women have to endure.
Obama goes on to encourage the class of 2012 to have a can-do spirit which is the lifeblood of American history. Not all Americans are fortunate enough to receive the skills and training this class of graduates had received at Barnard, but with their help, one day that will no longer be the case.
The challenges we face will always be solvable, but the question is whether we can bring forth the changes that we need. That will to bring about change in our own lives, in institutions, and politics lives inside each of us. Women are no longer just half of the population; they’re now half of the workforce. Thanks to the long strides of women before them, female graduates are now shaping not only their destiny but the destinies of all those across the globe.
Do more than just getting involved. We are a nation that is more than static; we are dynamic. Our focus is faced forwards, not back. New doors are opening every day, and you must seize these opportunities. Not everyone has been given the opportunities that lie ahead for the recent college graduates, so it’s imperative that these opportunities are acted upon when presented.
Lead by example and never underestimate the power that this holds. Earning a degree opens so many new possibilities. A great way to give back is by encouraging another young girl to earn her degree as well. Become a role model, be someone’s mentor. Until you’re able to imagine yourself as what you wish to become, you won’t be able to achieve it.
What the last piece of advice Obama offers is to persevere because nothing worthwhile will ever come easily. Failure is inevitable but what sets apart those who eventually succeed is the ability to learn from failure and refusal to quit.