President Barack Obama sits with Barnard College President Debora Spar (l) and Chairwoman Jolyne Caruso-Fitzgerald at Barnard College in New York, May 14, 2012. (White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama delivered a stirring commencement address at the private, all-women's Barnard College in New York, Monday. (Excerpts below; click here for the complete transcript.) He spoke lovingly about the powerful women who've influenced his life and dispensed three pieces of advice: fight for a seat at the head of the table; never underestimate the power of your example; and persevere. But when he told the story of former California State Sen. Hilda Solis, now Secretary of Labor, a flashing neon light went off in my brain: the same message applies to LGBT people.
It's time to appoint an LGBT Cabinet member! Think what that would mean to an LGBT kid? Here's what President Obama said - do you see the same flashing message?
Which brings me to my second piece of advice: 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. (Applause.)
I think of a friend of mine who's the daughter of immigrants. When she was in high school, her guidance counselor told her, you know what, you're just not college material. You should think about becoming a secretary. Well, she was stubborn, so she went to college anyway. She got her master's. She ran for local office, won. She ran for state office, she won. She ran for Congress, she won. And lo and behold, Hilda Solis did end up becoming a secretary -- (laughter) -- she is America's Secretary of Labor. (Applause.)
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.
Here are some additional excerpts from Obama's remarks:
What made this document special was that it provided the space -- the possibility -- for those who had been left out of our charter to fight their way in. It provided people the language to appeal to principles and ideals that broadened democracy's reach. It allowed for protest, and movements, and the dissemination of new ideas that would repeatedly, decade after decade, change the world -- a constant forward movement that continues to this day.....
So don't accept somebody else's construction of the way things ought to be. It's up to you to right wrongs. It's up to you to point out injustice. It's up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It's up to you to stand up and to be heard, to write and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don't be content to just sit back and watch.....
But whenever you feel that creeping cynicism, whenever you hear those voices say you can't make a difference, whenever somebody tells you to set your sights lower -- the trajectory of this country should give you hope. Previous generations should give you hope. What young generations have done before should give you hope. Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, didn't just do it for themselves; they did it for other people. (Applause.)
That's how we achieved women's rights. That's how we achieved voting rights. That's how we achieved workers' rights. That's how we achieved gay rights. (Applause.) That's how we've made this Union more perfect. (Applause.)
And if you're willing to do your part now, if you're willing to reach up and close that gap between what America is and what America should be, I want you to know that I will be right there with you. (Applause.) If you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way. (Applause.)
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. And if you fight for your seat at the table, and you set a better example, and you persevere in what you decide to do with your life, I have every faith not only that you will succeed, but that, through you, our nation will continue to be a beacon of light for men and women, boys and girls, in every corner of the globe.