SVCinNYC's Blog

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MAY 16, 2012 10:13AM

Obama at Barnard

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Meryl Streep delivered a brilliant address in 2010 when my daughter graduated from Barnard College.  A hard act to follow.  On Monday, Barack Obama was the speaker for the Barnard class of 2012.  Within moments of his final inspiring words, the pundits slammed the speech as ‘political’.  They were right; the President’s speech was profoundly political, exhorting 596 incredibly smart and accomplished young women to go out that same day and start changing the world.  But it wasn’t ‘political’ in the way the talking heads meant it, with the implied taint of partisan Democratic New York liberal elitism.  No, it was far more subversive than that, revolutionary even. 

Obama called upon these women to use their educations to stand up for the equal and inalienable rights of all Americans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  He warned that they faced a world where they would be paid less than men for the same work, and where other Americans were dedicated to curtailing their access to health care and control of their bodies.  He warned of the struggles they would face juggling work and family.  How his own mother left him to go work with early microfinancing for women, how his grandmother was there for him.  Yet regardless of the difficulties ahead, he continued, it was incumbent upon them to stand up for the rights of all Americans, some of whom cannot speak for themselves, because that’s what Americans do. 

We struggle as refugees and immigrants to reach the freedom of America, eventually win citizenship, and pursue our individual dreams and happinesses.  In doing so, we are obliged, in return for those innumerable privileges, to keep the doors of America open for the next arriving dreamers.  The current mood is to pull up the draw-bridge and pour boiling oil from the ramparts on latecomers, as though the idea of America were sold out and there was no more room. 

Get involved, grab a seat at the table -the head of the table!- he told them, and work so that every other American will have the same rights and opportunities as you.  Barack Obama is a man who has deep respect for women, and who believes the world would be a saner and less violent place if they ran the show.  What better forum than the top women’s college in the nation to speak to all women, and his own two daughters, about doing the right thing?

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It struck me that he asked these women to take their seat at the head of the table. It's 2012. And he still has to say that. We have not come all that far. Good post.
well written and stated. What do we honor? Community, humanity, hearth and home, arts and growth? or accumulation, aggression, competition, idolization? time for women to be taught, encouraged, supported in leading.
Obama chooses Barnard and Romney elects to deliver a commencement at Liberty "University." [:facepalm]

What more needs be said about the choice?
Wow! Thank you for sharing this with us. Obama continues to lead and inspire amid our low-brow culture of snark. R.
Sounds like a very inspiring speech!
Nice piece. You've made me interested to see how the pundits spun this. I'm off to see.
Women need to get out the vote for Obama. We are a major force, if we choose.
Glad he spoke out and has dared to make his speech so blatantly about progress. So what if he's up for reelection? Would a Bush have gone the same pro-feminism route?
Thank you all so much for reading and writing. I'm staggered by the regressive and punitive moralizing that goes on in the guise of democracy in our country these days. I stuffed envelopes for Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign through all of 10th grade and the idealism and horror of the 60s are always with me. Obama's speech reminded me there's hope.
The nerve! So fraught with that nasty politicizing of encouraging freedom, free will, determination and the power to change. I can't believe the President would stoop so low. I bet he hits like a girl.

I've been hit by girls and it still fricking hurts!

This is a great post about the other, more important side of being President, in my view -- that of inspiring others to greatness and leading them on with something we simple folk like to call: Vision.

I haven't seen a whole lot of that Vision stuff, but maybe I need one of them new 3D Plasma TVs to see the Vision, I dunno. Still the whole inspiring others to do greater things he seems to have figured out. What inspiration does Mitt provide? "I like to fire people?"

I'm an English teacher at a small university in China. 80% of my students are studying to be teachers and, of those, 95% are young women. I tell them all the time how important they are both as women and future teachers. If anyone is going to prevent this world from going nuts it's going to be the women. We need them.
Obama's abilities to create inspiring oratory is what got him into office. It has been a very long wait to see that oratory resolve into substantive policy creating real benefits for labor, constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, alleviation of the steady miseries of black and Hispanic people and withdrawal from idiotic vastly expensive military policies and failed adventures to no good effect and much unnecessary brutality. Perhaps those doubts will be resolved in his third term in office. One must be patient and persistently hopeful through the coming second term.
I'm so glad to know he did this, and did it well. Good on you, Mr. President!

I too, get the feeling that Obama likes and respects women. He's been surrounded by strong women all his life, and appears to have been stimulated and inspired by them. After all, look at the woman he loves and who loves him. I think Michelle is terrific, and a breath of fresh air as the FLOTUS.

The pundits are profoundly cynical.

I heard the speech, did you? I'm a student at Columbia and can assure you that diversity is thriving. Shrillness doesn't replace accuracy. Federal support of higher education is not a handout, it's a necessity. By the way, the Air Force Academy has accepted women since 1975, Naval Academy since 1976, West Point 1976.
This makes me so damn proud. ~r
He's such and inspiring speaker. I wish I had been there. Well written essay. Rated.
This was terrific to read about. Thank you.
thanks for writing up this review of the speech. i listened to it and came away with similar reactions. and thanks for responding to baltimore aureole's comment. he/she (i don't know) has a habit of dropping bombs in comments on other people's blogs that are often shrill and aggressive, not to mention groundless. nice job handling that one.
sorry. i just had to come back and put this link up. barnard's stats for 2012 - barnard college diversity stats – next page financial aid. i wonder what the 35% of their student population who *isn't* white/caucasian thinks of BE's categorizing them as rich white girls. and the 54% who are receiving financial aid, ditto.

that kind of asshatted commentary makes my blood boil, as you can see. sorry to have hijacked your blog, SVC.
Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment. As writers you all know how great it feels. I really appreciate it and can deal with criticism.

Here's a disclaimer: I generalize, I'm imprecise, and I'm far more interested in big pictures than details. I'm not going to argue statistics and numbers because they don't much interest me.

The Barnard stats are what they are because white people still have access to better schools and because we have no national educational standards. We are painfully undereducated as nation. Barnard Admissions doesn't reject qualified minority applicants because of some sinister plot to keep diversity low, for goodness sake, they simply don't get as many qualified minority applicants. But they get more than they used to and fewer than they will.

I'm a naturalized American who arrived here as a stateless refugee; I weep each time I'm welcomed home at JFK. English is my second language. I think that parents owe their children two things: the best education they can possibly provide and a serious grounding in the Golden Rule. My kids have attended private schools their whole lives. Not because they're rich, which I assure they're not, nor because they're white, which they are, but because that's where the best available education was. My daughter received scholarships and financial aid in both HS and at Barnard because she's very smart and works harder than anyone I know. My son is going to CUNY, with financial aid, in the fall.

I believe it's okay for all people to be educated, even white kids. Even mothers of white kids who get scholarships and financial aid to attend Columbia, as I do now, and who will graduate soon at 61.

I still want to change the world, even if I'm a late bloomer
Sounds inspiring I wish I would have heard it!
Too bad Obama is incapable of walking the walk he so hypocritically talks. His speech was political in that he was fogging up his own actual reality as an incompetent and betraying leader once again. Saying one thing, doing another. I hope the young women who trusted him do what he says but I think they need to also be conscious of that hypocrisy or we are a nation stuck in Stockholm Syndrome with leadership so saturated with corruption and hypocrisy and violence pretending it is humanitarian as it destroys the world or destroys us domestically, austerely (but not rhetorically during election time) brings death by deprivation of jobs, healthcare, food, to our own people.

When I saw Obama was to speak at Barnard my stomach sickened over his hypocrisy. Obama uses women to fight for his betraying policies a lot. Obama is no fool. The women sadly are. They want to climb the power ladder, but they need to understand what ladder they are climbing and who are they are actually helping in both parties. The one percent of which Obama beyond the rhetoric proudly is. The well-paid frontman for oligarchs who wanted to be a player and a one percenter and is now. The gamesman never statesman and still incredibly snowing too many at this point in a country that sadly won't give up the Obama brand illusion propaganda of 2008 despite the horror and continuation of Bush policies and which will continue to be led by corporate tv MSNBC etc. power to blame it all on the admittedly rabid rat bastard Republicans. Rabid rat bastards control both parties now.

What a tragedy. Sorry Barnard women. You deserved the real deal. WAKE UP BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE FOR THIS COUNTRY. Learn to call out Obama on his bullshit and his amorality.
Did you see the piece in today's NYTIMES by Campbell Brown, a Barnard graduate basically bringing Obama to task for patronizing women by calling them smarter than men?

My bet is that Ms. Brown considers herself a "liberal." That's what gives her the justification she needs to lambast him for the usual ideological reasons. They're not going to give him a break, no way, even in the face of the impending threat to what has been gained over the last fourty years by Mitt and his coalition.

Thinking politically, and realistically, is apparently no longer fashionable, even by someone like Ms. Brown whose career probably would have been impossible if it wasn't for the politicians like Obama.

How about giving him a break before it's too late ladies?