Commencement 2010

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Distinguished Commencement Day speakers included Meryl Streep, Benjamin Jealous, and Bill Clinton. / Photos by David Wentworth, Michael Dames, and Diane BondareffAcross Broadway, meanwhile, actress Meryl Streep gave Barnard graduates a window into her artistic process, which began during her suburban high-school years in the 1960s, when by careful study she transformed herself from a messy, opinionated free spirit into the sort of generically pretty, popular, giggly, submissive girl that she had seen in the pages of Seventeen — a guise she readily dropped when she got to Vassar. “Women are better at acting than men,” she told more than 500 graduating seniors. “Why? Because we have to be. This is how women have survived through the millennia.” She said that “empathy is at the heart of the actor’s art,” and bore witness to evolving gender roles inside and outside of Hollywood: “Cracks in the ceiling, cracks in the door, cracks in the Court and on the Senate floor.

”Other graduation-ceremony speakers included former U.S. president Bill Clinton, whose audience of graduates at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health included his daughter, Chelsea. “Never before,” Clinton said, “have we been in a position to do such good. . . . And public health is at the core of every single dramatic issue.”

At the law school ceremony on May 14, Attorney General Eric Holder ’73CC, ’76LAW held forth. “To return today as our nation’s attorney general to the place where I first studied the law, where I first dreamed of serving the cause of justice, is an extraordinary privilege,” he said. He pointed out that the Constitution, “rather than being the product of venerable old sages . . . was actually established at the insistence of, and through the advocacy of, young people, and specifi cally, young lawyers.” He was talking about the Federalists, the oldest of whom, at 44, was George Washington. “Young people,” Holder said, “are uniquely qualifi ed to reimagine and, in doing so, reinvigorate the law and the world.”

These sentiments harmonized with the remarks by Bollinger, who told his soaked but happy listeners, “You have been steeped in the culture of having to state your views, explain why they make sense, consider alternatives, and abide by a result of a process that transcends your own wishes about what you would like to believe. You have plunged into the complexity of subjects and kept your cool. Now we plead with you to take these intellectual habits of mind into the political arena, leading a new generation.”

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