Barnard College Commencement
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
New York City

Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. Business superstar. The woman at the table. From your seat at the pinnacle of our high-speed world, you connect us in ways we never before imagined.

But let’s start with Sandberg 1.0: high school in North Miami Beach where you taught aerobics between classes.  You packed your leg warmers and headed north to Harvard, graduating summa cum laude in 1991, and number one in your field of economics. A first job at the World Bank working on health projects in India and then back to Harvard for your MBA, again with the highest distinction. Being the best at what you choose to pursue is just the way you roll.

One year as a management consultant with McKinsey was followed by five as Chief of Staff to U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.  At Treasury, you tackled the problem of debt relief with the kind of savvy and forward-looking creativity that would become your signature. When the administration changed hands, you opted out of investment bank offers and joined Google, still small in 2002, but mighty in ambition and ideas. You knew that technology held the promise of every big change to come, and you wanted to be at its heart. In six and a half years as Google’s chief of online sales, you grew a local team of four to a global team of thousands, always making a difference and rarely breaking a sweat.

Then, in spring 2008, Facebook got very lucky when you took the job as chief operating officer, second only to founder Mark Zuckerberg and, in the realm of organizational genius, clearly second to none. In three years, the site has grown sevenfold, with well over 500 million users stretched across the hemispheres, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Cairo, Egypt.  When you state your company’s mission—“we want to connect the world”—there’s no denying that you’re making it happen. Facebook is ubiquitous. It’s where dissidents go to rally support for their causes, where innovators go to test their latest product, where lost friends go to find each other, and where students in every high school, college, and university around the world apparently go to do just about everything—post pictures, share news, grapple with ideas. As it was from its inception, Facebook has been a way to move the college experience online and to create – for students and non-students alike – an indispensible crossroads of communication. Chances are, half the audience is logged on right now.

Through it all, you have never wavered in your commitment to women, pushing for progressive child-care and maternity-leave policies that set the precedent for any organization that wants to compete in the modern economy.  You regularly speak to female executives and to young women just starting out, and are passionate about increasing women’s presence in the realms of government, technology, business and non-profits. You rarely, if ever, go unnoticed, listed on The Wall Street Journal’s 50 Women to Watch, Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and, of course, recipients of the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

So let me close with this post: Barnard is proud to honor you. To pay tribute to your undeniable influence and intellect. To call you – if you will confirm – a friend. 590 members of the Class of 2011 are primed to lean in and join you at the table… excited about the possibilities, invigorated by your example, and ready for anything. We thank you. 

Sheryl Sandberg address to Barnard graduates.