Student Government Association President Madelyn Popkin '14: Prepared Remarks


Hi! I'm Maddy Popkin, and this year I've had the incredible opportunity to lead the Student Government Association.

Firstly, I want to extend a huge thank you to all of you...President Spar, to the Trustees, to all of the administrators, staff, faculty, parents, and friends for the support, wisdom and love you have given us, over the past four years.

As the President of SGA, tradition allows me the privilege of speaking with you all today. I say 'with' rather than 'to' even though this doesn't appear to be much of a conversation, because what I have written certainly does not originate with me, and I hope it doesn't end here, either. In order to talk about the future, I'd like to start by understanding our shared pasts, what brings us all here today.

We got our start in 1889, after the 10th President of Columbia, Frederick A.P. Barnard, failed in his campaign for the admission of women into Columbia College. President Barnard believed in the idea that women should have access to education. His proposal failed, because at that time, the future was not meant for women, it did not belong to them.

As Barnard students, we inherit this feminist legacy, this commitment to accessible and just education. This is our shared past, but it is also our shared future-because what links us to those early activists is the idea that the present demands that we imagine a future that is better than the one we are given. We are the future those early pioneers dreamed up.

125 years later, we are--of course--very different from what they imagined. For example, my Barnard experience has been nourished by our queer and social justice communities, and importantly shaped by my major--Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies--a major that was literally unthinkable in President Barnard's day.

He definitely would've been puzzled by my use of the word "queer," as I imagine many of you might be too, as its current usage is pretty new. But don't worry if that's you; I've explained it to my own parents many many times. Hi Mom, hi Dad!

In general, 'queer' is what the 'q' stands for at the end of LGBTQ. It is a word that has been reclaimed from its derogatory uses. Today, we use it to mean a non-normative sexual or gender identity. Through my time and studies at Barnard, queerness has come to mean a lot of things for me. Primarily, it is a way of being; of being in the world, of being myself, of being with, for, and, through others.

So what does queerness have to do with the future? Well, as the late and incredible thinker Jose Esteban Munoz suggests, "if queerness is to have any value whatsoever, it must be viewed as being visible only in the horizon." As such, queerness fundamentally rejects the idea that the now is good enough, that we've come far enough in addressing and dismantling the structures of power and oppression that continue to make life really hard for a lot of people.

In other words, queerness is a commitment to interrogating the present to enact a better future. And isn't that what a Barnard education is all about? 

2014, we've already started imagining, and creating the better world we seek to live in. We've done that together--by learning the lessons of history in classrooms, by dismantling the patriarchy on Lehman Lawn, through practicing self-care in a well-woman workshop, and advocating for student needs at SGA rep councils. So now, as we go off to become lawyers, consultants, healers, chemists, activists, rocket scientists, we will still carry Barnard with us wherever we go, as she has carried us for the last four years.I am honored and so excited to leave here today an alumna of Barnard College, knowing that Barnard's commitment to just and equitable education is alive and well. You can see it on our campus and in our community today, that Barnard will continue to be a place that we are proud of. As I graduate today, I am confident that we will stay true to our commitment to provide quality education to all women--not just those of us who are considered to have a female body--but trans* women, too. I am confident that the needs and voices of the students will continue to be heard and taken seriously. I am confident that our community will be a space for all student activism to thrive; a place where impactful work will continue to be done by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and students working to end sexual violence by challenging the cultures that make it possible. I am confident that this will be a space where Barnard students can continue to enact a better future, together, on campus and off.

So today, we are sent off this stage with the charge of changing the world. As we do that, let's acknowledge those who are not yet here with us, as well as all of those who came before us and who bring us, the class of 2014, to this commencement. Here's to the last 125 years and the next 125 more. Because we are here, we are together, we are oriented towards a better future, and that is bold, and that is beautiful.