Obama's Non-political Women Speech


President Barack Obama’s speech to the Barnard College 2012 graduating class focused on how this group of smart young women can help move our country forward. His speech focused on women and how women can change the world, which is fitting as the commencement speaker for one of the world’s best women’s colleges.

Yes, he did lightly touch on hot political topics such as the debate in Washington over women’s health care, gay marriage, women getting equal pay for equal work, and high carbon emissions hurting the environment, but at the same time the president was not trying to sway the crowd to follow his political views. Instead he used these issues as examples for how and why his advice for the graduates is important. His advice was:

1)   Don’t just get involved in the world, fight for a seat at the head of the table.

  1. As an educated member of this country one has an obligation to seize the opportunities one has.
  2. If you chose to stay away from the limelight, you should make sure that you have a representative voice at the table.

2)   Never underestimate the power of your example.

  1. Use your strength to inspire and/or encourage the young women that follow you.
  2. Try to be a mentor or role model to the next generation of women.

3)   Always persevere.

  1. Nothing worthwhile is easy.
  2. You should go out into the world and make your mark, which is hard. Whenever the voice in your head or someone else tells you to stop trying or that you cannot achieve your goals you should look back at the history of this nation and the hard times it has faced and see that you can achieve whatever you strive for.

Over the last couple of weeks many Columbia and Barnard students have discussed the president coming to campus with a myriad of views. One common opinion was that Obama’s choice of Barnard was a purely political calculation to gain a larger amount of the women’s vote and nothing more. Now as a Barnard rising junior and political science major this always made me laugh. Every public thing a politician does purposefully is a political calculation. These calculations all have research and polls and discussions behind the decision and/or announcement, especially for an incumbent president running for re-election in a partisan political climate.

But there is also a personal reason for the president to speak at Barnard. He has two daughters and his sister went to Barnard. He clearly wanted to speak at a women’s college to support this type of institution. In part he picked Barnard because it is the women’s college to which he, as a Columbia College graduate of ’83, and his family have a personal tie. Many believed that the president was going to use this platform for a major political discussion, which he did not. Instead he gave a graduation speech full of advice and reasons why we all can hope for a better future contributed to and led by the class of 2012. He came to Barnard to give a commencement address. He did not come for a political debate or town hall, thus President Obama gave a very memorable and tasteful graduation speech, not a politically infused oration.

Yes, the whole speech was about women, as many a critic had previously mocked, but last time I checked Barnard College’s student body is 100 percent women.