Obama Urges Barnard Graduates Toward a Life of Activism

Posted May 14th, 2012 at 8:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama urged graduates at a women's college Monday to persevere for achievement in their lives no matter the obstacles they may encounter.

Mr. Obama spoke at Barnard College in New York. The school is part of Columbia University, where he graduated in 1983. It was the year Columbia first admitted women.

A day after Mother's Day in the U.S., the president paid tribute to his late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. He credited her with overcoming economic hardships to provide educational opportunities for him, sometimes waking him very early in the morning to teach him his English lessons.

While he noted that the country has often short-changed women in the workforce, the president said that women now comprise half of the U.S. labor force, and more than half of its college graduates in recent years, including those with advanced degrees. Mr. Obama told the graduates they could not rest on their achievements, but needed to pursue a life of activism and change.

“Don't just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

He said the pursuit of success comes with failure, but one must not stop seeking a more just American society.

“Remember that making your mark on the world is hard. It takes patience. It takes commitment. It comes with plenty of setbacks and it comes with plenty of failures. So whenever you feel that creeping cynicism, whenever you hear those words that 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.”

Despite growing opportunities, the president said women face unique challenges, including achieving pay equality with men and balancing demands of work with family.