Quotes from President Obama’s Commencement Speech

Barnard College/David Wentworth
“I have come to believe over and over again 
that what is most important to me must be
spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the 
risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” 
– Audre Lorde

A compilation of quotes from President Barack Obama’s commencement speech, taken from a complete transcription. For what we thought about commencement and quotes from other speakers, see our previous article.


“Believe that the women of this generation — that all of you will help lead the way. (Applause.) Now, I recognize that’s a cheap applause line when you’re giving a commencement at Barnard.”

“I will begin by telling a hard truth: I’m a Columbia college graduate. (Laughter and applause.) I know there can be a little bit of a sibling rivalry here.”

“Keep your friends close, and your Barnard commencement speakers even closer.”

“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

“Now, I’m not saying that the only way to achieve success is by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder or running for office — although, let’s face it, Congress would get a lot more done if you did.”

“Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public’s complacency. Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well.”

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki

Never underestimate the power of your example. The very fact that you are graduating, let alone that more women now graduate from college than men, is only possible because earlier generations of women — your mothers, your grandmothers, your aunts — shattered the myth that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be where you are…”

So think about what that means to a young Latina girl when she sees a Cabinet secretary that looks like her. (Applause.) Think about what it means to a young girl in Iowa when she sees a presidential candidate who looks like her. Think about what it means to a young girl walking in Harlem right down the street when she sees a U.N. ambassador who looks like her. Do not underestimate the power of your example. This diploma opens up new possibilities, so reach back, convince a young girl to earn one, too.”

“Until there are women who tell her, ignore our pop culture obsession over beauty and fashion — (applause) — and focus instead on studying and inventing and competing and leading, she’ll think those are the only things that girls are supposed to care about. Now, Michelle will say, nothing wrong with caring about it a little bit. (Laughter.) You can be stylish and powerful, too. (Applause.) That’s Michelle’s advice.”

Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure — sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit.”

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki

“She [my grandmother] hit the glass ceiling, and watched men she once trained promoted up the ladder ahead of her. But she didn’t quit.”

“People ask me sometimes, who inspires you, Mr. President? Those quiet heroes all across this country — some of your parents and grandparents who are sitting here — no fanfare, no articles written about them, they just persevere. They just do their jobs. They meet their responsibilities. They don’t quit. I’m only here because of them. They may not have set out to change the world, but in small, important ways, they did. They certainly changed mine.”

“Now more than ever — now more than ever, America needs what you, the Class of 2012, has to offer. America needs you to reach high and hope deeply.

Image courtesy of Barnard College staff photographers, David Wentworth and Asiya Khaki. For more photos from Barnard College, click here.


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