Barnard College Commencement
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
New York City
Today is not a time to be sentimental; it’s a time to celebrate. Yes, the seemingly distant nostalgia that has been sneaking into our minds is now real. And, yes, as we look back on our time at Barnard, we are all wondering how four years went by so fast. But we are not celebrating an end. We are rejoicing that we have reached the next step, both at Barnard and in the world.
On this day, we have our family and friends next to us, thrilled that we, the Barnard College Class of 2011, are taking another step in our lives. We are about to process into Barnard, unified as alums. And we are about to march into this world as adults. Today, we end the marathon of emotions that accompanies our senior year reminiscence of our years at Barnard. We end the marathon, but sprint across this stage in excitement. As I begin this sprint forward, I also look back at a very specific story in order to understand why I am here.
It’s a joke in my family that my middle name should be “Quit.” Throughout my life, my grandmother Mumsy has regularly added this wonderful word to the end of my first name, so much so that my birth certificate should read “Lara Q. Avsar.” Being of a different generation, she would add it on for multiple reasons, from quit being too sassy to quit mixing the colors and the whites in the wash. Lara, quit. Lara, quit. At first, I thought that maybe she was right. I thought maybe I am too assertive sometimes. And maybe I do things that a lady shouldn’t do. I would often think, "I am from the South, after all. And if I want to make it in this world, I have to find a husband." So, I would say okay, sometimes apologize, and continue on the track that Emily Post had so beautifully laid out. But then, I went to Barnard.
We all started in the same place, having excelled in order to be where we are today. We have gone through the college application process and discovered Barnard is the school for us. Or maybe, for some, Barnard saw the ability for us to be great before we saw it in ourselves. Our campus is small. Our endowment is too. And we had a hole in the ground for the majority of our time here. Despite all of these factors, Barnard provided the support system for our greatness. But the Barnard “it” factor, that thing that unites all Barnard women, well, we had it in us. We had it all along.
I am here to say that Barnard women do not only graduate as incredible women; we enter that way. We are just lucky enough to be a part of an institution that allows us to mold our own greatness and set our own path. This path began with first-year English and first-year seminar. Here, we started together discovering that the Mediterranean in fact does have a broad literary legacy. We also learned that the empowering effect women have on culture goes beyond the title of a first-year English class. It is our anthem. And then, together, we celebrated our first midnight breakfast, not fully understanding the tradition, but loving the fact that the president of our college was serving us waffles.
During sophomore year, we all found a major that suits our personalities, strikes our interests, satisfies our parents and, most importantly, fills our hearts with passion. After celebrating this accomplishment with a toast, many of us had to accept that we would be separated from each other for a while. As our friends went abroad and we struggled to keep in touch, junior year flew by. Those at home took advantage of New York, whether through art, food or grocery shopping at 2:30 in the morning. The rest of us mapped out a semester across the world.
Finally, in the year that bridges the gap between our college experience and the real world, we have come together again and celebrated our years at Barnard. Socially, we have reveled in our time together. We have joined President Spar, Vice President Denburg and Dean Hinkson at our Senior Class Dinner. We have yoga’ed in a toga for Greek Games. And academically, we have all submitted a project that our advisors like to describe as the culmination of our entire academic experience at Barnard. These are things that bind us as Barnard students.
But as I continue to look back on my middle name of “Quit,” I can think of something else that binds us. As Barnard students, we don’t quit. We are women that don’t even know the word quit. Because if we have started something, we know that it’s worthwhile. And no matter what, we force ourselves to see it through. Whether it’s surviving a week of midterms and multiple RA meetings, a day of papers and dance performances or a few hours of running around campus trying to get everything done, we know we can do it all. We work to solve campus problems while expecting greatness from everyone. Curiosity, complexity, hard work, how else would be Barnard women?
When I go back to Alabama, Mumsy often still cries, “Lara, quit it.” But now she adds on another phrase, “You’ve changed.” So, I’m here in front of everyone to tell you that I have changed. We have all changed. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been a snarky, loud and sometimes aggressive person. But now, I’m a snarky, loud and sometimes aggressive Barnard woman. And you know what? I’m damn proud of it.
I know that I don’t need apologize for my witty comments, as long as they are well articulated and the majority of the room laughs. I don’t need to apologize for the fact that my thoughts for after graduation do not yet include marriage or kids. I don’t need to apologize for speaking my mind, even if I’m in a room of people older and wiser than I am. So, no, I will not quit. As Barnard women, we will never quit. So go into this world knowing that if someone ever asks you to quit, even if it’s your grandmother, respond with sassy eyes and a calm voice and say, “Quit? That’s not possible. I went to Barnard.”
But my grandmother has given me more than the nickname “Quit.” She’s been the voice inside my head and inside my heart. We have all realized what it means to be overwhelmed. I remember talking to Mumsy on the phone as I was walking into the Barnard gates one day. “Lara,” she told me, “whenever life gets overwhelming, you just take it one day at a time.” Well, on this day, in this time, we have the world at our fingertips. We’ve discovered together and now we will discover apart for a while, knowing that when we reconnect, our discoveries will be those that change the world. Because we know, as Barnard women, that behind every great idea is a great woman and behind every great woman is her Barnard family. We have left the Barnard gates as students and now we can explore, see the world, explore the world, dive into it headfirst without apology and maybe even do a flip on the way down.