Clinton addresses Barnard graduates, calling for 'digital diplomacy'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Barnard class of 2009 to engage in “citizen diplomacy,” playing on her position in foreign affairs, at the school’s Class Day on Monday.

Clinton, an alumna of Wellesley College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, spoke to the 625 graduates, calling her decision to attend a women’s college “the best investment my parents and I ever made.”

The former first lady and senator from New York was awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, along with three other women.
Barnard President Debora Spar offered graduates a message mixed with warnings and fond wishes as they enter a world of economic and political uncertainties. The financial crisis presents a “particularly fascinating time in which to be graduating,” Spar said, arguing that the “recession is changing work patterns across the country” and may ultimately improve women’s status in the workplace by calling on them to rebuild fallen business structures.

“A culture of choice is our generation’s unique opportunity,” Sarah Besnoff, BC '09 and outgoing president of Barnard's Student Government Association, told the graduates as they sat in a tent on Columbia’s South Lawn. (The ceremony was moved to Columbia due to construction on Barnard’s campus.) Besnoff, whose classmates elected her to receive the Frank Gilbert Bryson Prize, alluded to the relationship between Columbia and Barnard, joking that “our collective impact on the world will be so great that across the street they’ll have to add new books to the Core.”

In addition to Clinton, medals were presented to PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, art historian Irene Winter, BC ’60 and GSAS ’73, and Kay Murray, Law ’76 and former general counsel for the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice.

This was Clinton’s second visit to the college this year, after having led a press conference on campus about pay equity in September.

In her Class Day address, Clinton used women’s rights as a lens for considering democratization in war-torn and impoverished countries. “Today’s diplomacy is no longer confined to the state department and men in pin-striped suits,” Clinton told graduates. “You must be special envoys of your ideas,” calling for graduates to engage in "digital diplomacy" to address climate change, the economic downturn, and human rights abuses.

Clinton referred to states in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as to North Korea, condemning efforts by “retrograde regimes around the world to...make women primate targets” as “not an expression of religion or God’s will,” but “a betrayal of both.” According to Clinton, one can evaluate a country’s stability by looking at the condition of its women and girls.

In a time of fiscal and administrative transition for both Barnard and Columbia, the theme of legacy resounded loudly in the space bookended by Low and Butler libraries. “We have a connection with each other and women throughout time that we can never forget and never lose,” Jamie Prem, BC ’09 and senior class president, said in her speech.

Having raised $10,000, the senior class will donate an eco-friendly fountain to be placed on Barnard’s campus. The ceremony ended with a rendition of Barnard’s alma mater by the Bacchantae, the college’s a cappella group.

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