It’s Obama headquarters here: Everything you need to know
Good morning, Morningside Heights! President Barack Obama, CC ’83, is returning to campus to deliver the address at Barnard’s Commencement, his first visit to campus since September 2008 and possibly the first visit to campus by a sitting president (see below for more: it seems like it was the first visit by a sitting president in about 50 years, though). It’s going to be a hectic day, with ultratight security locking down all of South Campus. Graduates are scheduled to arrive in Roone Arledge Auditorium at 8 a.m., four hours before the procession is due to begin.
Spectator will be bringing you coverage from inside and outside of the ceremony but we urge anyone on campus to send in pictures or stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and tweet @CU_Spectator using the hashtags #ObamaAtCU or #Barnard2012.
Didn’t get a golden ticket to commencement? Don’t worry, you can watch Obama’s speech streamed live here. We’ll be liveblogging the whole day, from the 8 a.m. arrivals to what it’s like inside the press filing room, from the procession at noon to the speech, to the moment Obama leaves campus at around 3 p.m.
(UPDATE: 3:21 p.m.) Photos after the jump, too.
Here are some more photos. It was a pooled press event, so the photos are courtesy of Asiya Khaki, BC ’09.
And for the record, we’ve learned that this was not the first visit to campus by a sitting president. George Washington and his cabinet attended a commencement in the 1790s, Theodore Roosevelt attended Nicholas Murray Butler’s inauguration as University President in 1902, and Dwight Eisenhower—who was also a former president of the University—drove down College Walk in the 1950s, according to history professor Robert McCaughey and reports from alumni. It seems like Obama’s visit was, however, the first visit by a sitting president in 50 years.
2:51 p.m. And the ceremony is officially over! Check back in about an hour for our coverage of SEAS Class Day. “New York, New York” plays over the speakers as the recessional begins.
2:50 p.m. Spar says, “I wish you joy, and love and all the luck you can imagine,” ending her speech. Bacchantae is singing Barnard’s alma mater.
2:48 p.m. Spar is giving her closing comments. She said, despite the attack on women’s rights in the political season now, she is encouraged by the efforts of the graduates to combat those. She cites the work of students on both sides of Broadway this year to end misogyny on campus—a reference to sexist comments that were made in the wake of Obama’s announcement he would speak at this very commencement.
2:34 p.m. We’re in urban studies majors now (what up urban studies!). Spec is going to leave to the press filing center now, but be sure to check back later for our article on commencement and high-quality photos. And don’t forget, SEAS class day is at 4:30 p.m.!
2:25 p.m. We’re at philosophy majors now. Here’s a shot of Obama’s motorcade taking off, almost as soon as his speech was over:
2:23 p.m. I realize we never got a photo of Obama up on the blog! We’ll have some better photos, but for now, here’s one from the feed:
2:18 p.m. We’re in the middle of English majors right now, but in the mean time, check out pictures of Obama’s arrival from JFK to the east side helipad before he arrived at Columbia, courtesy of TJ Johnson, CC ’81.
2:07 p.m. This is going pretty fast! We’re getting an average of about 20 graduates a minute!
2:04 p.m. Graduates are now being presented in alphabetical order by major name.
2:00 p.m. Obama has left the stage and left the tent, it appears.
1:59 p.m. Close of a very powerful speech. He is shaking Spar’s and Hinkson’s hands and hugging graduate Britney Wilson.
1:58 p.m. From Seneca Falls to Selma, to Stonewall, they didn’t just do it for themselves, they did it for other people—how we achieved women’s rights, voting rights, labor rights, gay rights. “If you’re 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.”
1:57 p.m. “Whenever you hear those voices say you can’t make a difference, whenever someone tells you to set your sights lower, the trajectory of this country should give you hope. Previous generations should give you hope.”
1:56 p.m. “No fanfare, no articles written about them, they just persevered, they just do their jobs. They meet their responsibilities. They don’t quit. I’m only here because of them.”
1:55 p.m. Michelle saw how her parents never quit, they never indulged in self-pity, no matter how stacked the odds were against them. “Those are the folks who inspire me.”
1:55 p.m. Then he met a woman who gave him such good advice on a summer job at a law firm, that he married her.
1:54 p.m. His single mom never quit, lived on food stamps, but still got her degree. Woke Obama up before dawn to study. His mom ended up dedicating herself to getting women the money they needed to start their own businesses. When she was gone, his grandmother stepped up to take care of him. Even though she faced a glass ceiling at the bank she worked at, she didn’t quit either. Ultimately, wound up as vice president of that bank.
1:51 p.m. At first big community organizing meeting in Chicago, nobody showed up. “I felt pretty discouraged, I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought about quitting.” But he saw some young boys playing in a vacant lot late at night. He said to his fellow volunteers, “What will happen to those boys if you quit? Who will fight for them if we don’t? Who will give them a fair shot if we leave?”
1:50 p.m. Last piece of advice is just “persevere.” No one of achievement has avoided failure. Talks about his time here: “When I first arrived on this campus, it was with little money, fewer options, but it was here I tried to find my place in the world. I knew I wanted to make a different but was vague about how I would go about it. But I wanted to do my part to shape a better world. So even after I worked in a few unfulfilling jobs in New York—I will not list them all—even as I went from motley apartment to motley apartment, I reached out to community organizations.”
1:49 p.m. Big power in being a parent—Malia and Sasha are going to be outstanding women because of Michelle and Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson.
1:47 p.m. Reach back and persuade another student to study a field in STEM that needs women. Until a women can picture herself as a computer programmer, she won’t become one. Until there are women to ignore our pop-culture obsession over beauty and fashion and focus instead on studying and inventing and competing and leading, she’ll think those are the only things girls are supposed to care about. “Now, Michelle said, nothing wrong with caring about it a little bit. You can be stylish and powerful, too.”
1:47 p.m. Think about what it means for a young girl when she sees a secretary of the cabinet or a U.N. ambassador who looks like her.
1:46 p.m. Obama talks about friend whose high school counselor said she “wasn’t college material” and should be a secretary. But she went to college anyway… and did end up becoming a secretary… the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solia.
1:45 p.m. Second piece of advice: “Never underestimate the power of your example.” “Only possible that your mothers and grandmothers shattered the myth that you couldn’t or you shouldn’t be where you are.”
1:44 p.m. Speech has focused on various women who have spoken up, righted wrongs, and pointed out injustices.
1:43 p.m. “Much of federally funded research on diseases focused solely on the effects on man. It was not until women got to Congress and passed Title IX 49 years ago this year that we declared that women too should be able to complete on America’s playing fields.”
1:43 p.m. “Congress would get a lot more done if you” ran for office. (1 in 5 seats in Congress are held by women.)
1:42 p.m. “The reason many workplaces still have outdated policies is because women only account for 3% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.”
1:41 p.m. “We can assume there were some founding mothers whispering smart things in the ears of the smarting fathers.”
1:40 p.m. Leadership will not be handed to you. Obama now to offer advice: First piece, don’t just get involved—fight for your seat at the table. “better yet, fight for a seat t the head of the table.”
1:38 p.m. We know all these solutions already, Obama says. “The question is whether together we can muster the will in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics, to bring about the changes we need. I’m convinced your generation possesses that will. And the women of that generation, all of you, will help lead the way.” Applause, and he “Now, I recognize that that is a cheap applause line when you’re giving a speech at Barnard. But it’s true!”
1:37 p.m. We know the solutions already: We know people will be better off if they got the education you could get at Barnard. Or if we invested in science and technology, and developed cleaner energy. Rules that stop big banks from making bad investments, or insurance companies from charging women differently from men.
1:36 p.m. This generation is impatient to rush in and change the course of history. America needs that spirit of the graduating class. The question is not whether things will get better—they always do. The question is not what the solutions are.
1:35 p.m. “As tough as things have been, I’m convinced you are tougher.”
1:34 p.m. “Politics seem nastier. Congress more gridlocked than usual. Some folks in the financial world have not been exactly the model of corporate citizens.”
1:33 p.m. Women will grapple with unique challenges, like equal pay, can you balance job and family, can you fully control decisions about your own health. While opportunities have grown exponentially, as young people you have it even tougher than we do in many ways.
1:33 p.m. The class of 1983, although Columbia looked very different then, had a lot in common with the Barnard class of 2012: recovering from recession. Time of change, uncertainty, passionate political debates.
1:32 p.m. He mentions the moonwalk as the music of 1983 and a graduate asks him to do his own moonwalk. “No moonwalking today!” he says.
1:31 p.m. Acknowledges the hard acts he has to follow: Clinton, Streep, Sandberg, who are all close with Obama. “It’s like the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your Barnard commencement speakers closer.”
1:30 p.m. “I have to tell you a hard truth. I am a Columbia College graduate.” Lots of laughs.
1:29 p.m. “I have to say, whenever I come to these things, I start thinking about Malia and Sasha graduating, and I tear up. I don’t know how you guys do it.”
1:28 p.m. Obama takes the podium for his address.
1:27 p.m. “There’s no opportunity they cannot embrace, no dream they cannot make real.” Obama makes this clear to the 594 graduates, Spar says.
1:26 p.m. Spar says “women are running everything,” and Obama nods along and smiles.
1:25 p.m. Spar highlights equal pay for women, support for right to choose, ease with which women can serve in military. And you have “put your trust in remarkable women leaders.”
1:24 p.m. “You have led the way on preventing hate crimes and promoting affordable health care, on reforming student loan programs, credit card debt, and financial regulation.” Praises, fuel efficiency, auto reform, efforts in Iraq, and ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “And just days ago, you affirmed your belief that the right to marriage belongs to us all.”
1:23 p.m. Spar called Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech “as brilliant as it was decisive.”
1:21 p.m. “We pay tribute to your leadership of our nation and our place in our world … the chronicle of your life has enthralled us,” says Spar.
1:21 p.m. Second gift is for Obama and First Lady. Special collection of books written by Barnard alumnae and inscribed by the authors.
1:20 p.m. Barnard gave two gifts to Obama just before the ceremony: first, a book called “Pass It On,” wisdom from the class of 2012, to share with Sasha and Malia. Big smiles from the President and lots of cheers.
1:19 p.m. Obama joins Spar at the podium!
1:17 p.m. “You have turned a once-lonely march into a surging, national movement. In 2011, New York joined the wave and the wind was transformative, when the state that welcomed your grandparents as immigrants in 1917 became the sixth and largest to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.” –Kaye talking about Wolfson.
1:16 p.m. Judith Kaye, BC ’58 and trustee emerita, introducing Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom To Marry. Calls him a champion of civil rights for all for his efforts supporting gay marriage.
1:14 p.m. “In honor of your vital and ongoing work. For it we are all the richer.” Obama had called on Gayle to chair his committee on HIV/AIDS.
1:12 p.m. Anthro prof Paige West introducing Helene Gayle, BC ’76 and president and CEO of CARE, USA. West says, “You set off [from graduation] armed with the rare combination of scientific know-how and skillful diplomacy” to fight HIV/AIDS.
1:10 p.m. Sally Chapman, professor of chemistry, is the first honoree. Students “rightly call you the conscience of Barnard … their respect for you immeasurable,” says graduate Britney Wilson, who’s introducing her. Chapman’s sister accepts the award on her behalf.
1:08 p.m. Presentation of Barnard medals of distinction now.
1:07 p.m. She makes the analogy between Barnard graduating class and an excited electron that leaps out of its shell and does not return.
1:05 p.m. Lerner: “In all courses, we learn attentiveness, listening, watching, and above all, noticing. … You must ask questions.”
1:01 p.m. Daniele Lerner providing her academic reflections. Anthro major and premed, so her education has “been at the nexus of science and the humanities.”
1:00 p.m. Chairs of Senior Fund say 47% participation rate in Senior Fund.
12:58 p.m. Maddie Provo was awarded this year’s Bryson Prize, as voted by her classmates for the most dedication to her class. The recipient of the award is not announced until Spar announced it now! Provo gets up and charmingly looks confused as she figures out if she’s supposed to go up on stage. She’s not, but everyone applauds her. Congrats, Maddie!
12:55 p.m. “The onus is now on us. … It is incumbent upon us to take the lessons learned from our foremothers and continue to teach one another and women of the future,” Blank says.
12:54 p.m. Blank quotes Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”
12:51 p.m. Blank grew up in a “male-dominated comfort zone,” with three rambunctious brother. But was drawn to Barnard by its faculty, location in NY, its renowned liberal arts education, and its alumni.
12:50 p.m. Barnard SGA president Jessica Blank speaking now about her dreams as she showed up on Barnard and how they’ve changed.
12:49 p.m. Keeps stressing how Barnard is not your typical college. “The road less traveled.” “I urge all of you to take that path that will inspire you every day. Wherever our lives may take us, we are united by the fact that we chose Barnard and Barnard chose us, and that has made all the difference.”
12:47 p.m. D’Aversa sharing stories from her classmates. “Barnard showed her that science is not just for older white guys,” she says about one friend who can major in neuroscience.
12:44 p.m. Jackie D’Aversa, senior class president, speaking now, telling her road to Barnard. “With all due respect, Mr. President, it is a good thing that none of the women in the Barnard class of 2012 are running for president.” Lots of cheers.
12:43 p.m. Chair urges graduates to come back to campus, visit reunions, tell their stories, help out other alums.
12:42 p.m. The crowd watching on Earl Hall:
12:41 p.m. Chair of the Board of Trustees talking. “It is remarkable that no matter what place we are in the world I can always identify a Barnard woman.”
12:39 p.m. Chants of DSpar as she takes the podium. “I am pleased to declare this 120th ceremony of the presentation of Barnard degree candidates now open.”
12:37 p.m. Spar and Obama taking the stage!
12:32 p.m. President Bollinger walking in the procession now!
12:31 p.m. OBAMA HAS BEEN SIGHTED.
12:28 p.m. We’re at the end of the procession of students and faculty are walking in now.
12:25 p.m. Here’s the motorcade on FDR Drive!
12:20 p.m. They’re still processing in. Here’s a view from Low Library, from Sammy.
12:14 p.m. Lots of Pomp and Circumstance. Makes us all emotional. What we want to know: where’s Obama in between the motorcade and his speech? In the tunnels??
12:08 p.m. The livefeed is beginning here, and the bell is ringing at St. Paul’s. The graduates are proceeding in to lots of cheers!
12:00 p.m. From a window in Buell Hall:
11:57 a.m. Here comes the motorcade:
11:56 a.m. Sammy has made it into Buell Hall but has been told not to so much look out the windows while he’s there.
11:53 a.m. He’s approaching from the north. Vehicles are already here.
11:49 a.m. Snipers on the roof of Low, every blind in every window of Butler has been drawn.
11:44 a.m. Obama is on his way, driving from Wall Street. Amsterdam is totally shut down.
11:43 a.m. Assembly member O’Donnell tweets that he’s sitting next to Rep. Charles Rangel, former mayor David Dinkins, and actress Cynthia Nixon. Star-studded row that is!
11:40 a.m. Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”—named for the restaurant on 112th Street—is now being played for the third time. People are getting a little tired of it…
11:36 a.m. Broadway and Amsterdam are being shut down, getting ready for the president’s motorcade. Check out the sanitation truck barricade!
11:31 a.m. Barnard professors are robed and ready for the procession, due to begin in half an hour!
11:28 a.m. By the way, our team today includes managing editor Maggie Alden and campus news editor Sammy Roth roaming around outside campus sending in pictures and updates, deputy news editor Yasmin Gagne inside as the official reporter for Spec, and deputy news editor Gina Lee and former Spectrum editor Mikey Zhong inside the ceremony sending in tips and photos. Remember, email email@example.com or tweet @CU_Spectator or with hashtags #Barnard2012 or #ObamaAtCU to send in tips!
11:26 a.m. Mikey spots security on the roof of Low. “Officially intimidated,” he says. Insert pun here about high security on Low.
11:22 a.m. Maggie reports that a group of sanitation workers near 115th Street and Amsterdam say they’re there so they can block the streets in a few minutes.
11:15 a.m. At 11:10 a.m., Air Force One reportedly set down at JFK. Here’s the photo from @911buff:
11:14 a.m. Anti-Obama sign spotted outside the 115th gate:
11:07 a.m. There’s an impromptu singalong by the graduates in Roone, to “Hit ‘em Up Style (Ooops!)” by Blu Cantrell.
10:57 a.m. One Barnard grad says, “Apparently Obama is in the building.” That would be well ahead of his 12:30 scheduled speech time, but we’re checking!
10:55 a.m. The music to pass the time right now is “New York, New York.” One journo in the press filing center jokes, “Did Liza Minelli go to Barnard?”
10:53 a.m. Multiple reports that the bathroom lines are endless. This person estimates over 100 people. Check the photo.
10:42 a.m. Gina spots actress Cynthia Nixon, BC ’88, at the ceremony. We’re trying for photos!
10:39 a.m. Sammy reports it’s starting to drizzle! Everyone inside is under a tent, which is good since there’s a 60% chance of rain.
10:36 a.m. Former sports editor Mrinal Mohanka won a ticket to the ceremony, but he would be sitting in a tent outside Furnald, unable to see either Obama or the procession. He’s left, resolved to just stream the speech from his room.
10:31 a.m. Great rendition of “Bills Bills Bills” now. Meanwhile, the press filing center is filling up a little bit (not really).
10:27 a.m. Bacchantae singing now, “Zorbing” by Stornoway.
10:25 a.m. Students speaking now: of the 514 graduates, they represent 38 states and 22 countries and spent an average of 16,800 minutes in class.
10:23 a.m. Lots of goodie-bag swag for grads’ families:
10:21 a.m. Our reporters inside the tent say it’s cool to be among all the buzz, but the view—even for those who arrived early—isn’t that great. Would you rather have a ticket inside and be a part of the atmosphere, or watch it live on YouTube? I went to Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and even though I had a really, really far away view of him, I still thought it was a pretty extraordinary experience to be in Washington that day.
10:20 a.m. Even though graduates and faculty have all entered Roone by now, there’s still a big line of guests entering on Broadway. They must be seated in 40 minutes!
10:15 a.m. Sammy reports that the very last Barnard grad has made her way into Lerner!
10:14 a.m. A trivia question on the screen asks what previous commencement speaker said the quote “A finished person is a boring person.” The answer is Anna Quindlen, BC ’74, but one of the choices is J. K. Rowling. Given Barnard’s success with commencement speakers over the last few years… maybe next year?!
10:12 a.m. Spec’s Editor in Chief Sarah Darville, CC ’13, went on Fox’s Good Day NY this morning to discuss Obama’s relationship with the city. She’s also asked every Speccie’s favorite question, “How do you keep up with your homework?” Watch the video here.
10:03 a.m. Video playing now about Barnard. Interviews with students, faculty, and administrators.
9:58 a.m. #Barnard2012 is the fifth-top New York trend on Twitter! … after such winners as #EveryoneHasThat1friend and #NameAFollowerWhoGaveYouHead. So glad New Yorkers have other, more important things on their minds today.
9:53 a.m. Finn here, reporting from 417 IAB, the press filing center. Lots of parents using the #Barnard2012 hashtag, as there’s a big screen at the front of the tent asking them to give shoutouts to their graduates.
9:48 a.m. Quite the motorcade on Amsterdam!
9:45 a.m. City news editor Finn Vigeland on his way to the press filing center, or as he calls it, “a glorified streaming center in a room with notoriously bad WiFi!”
9:43 a.m. Sammy tells us that the front doors of Low Library are “locked tight.”
9:38 a.m. A reminder to everyone attending: No beverages allowed!
9:32 a.m. “Police said both sides of Amsterdam will be closed,” tweets @hchesner. “Obama coming that way?”
9:29 a.m. Tweeter @NataliaZarina sends us a photo from behind the scenes in Roone.
9:23 a.m. One Twitter user reports that her water bottle has been confiscated. Really is like airport security around here!
9:21 a.m. Columbia’s all-female a cappella group the Metrotones are performing for the Barnard faculty right now!
9:16 a.m. Guests making their way through the maze of barricades on 114th Street, from @MarlowNYC.
9:14 a.m. We’re getting reports that David Dinkins, former NYC mayor and a SIPA lecturer, is in the house.
9:11 a.m. @sydmosley tweets a picture from inside the tent. Already looking quite crowded!
9:05 a.m. Mikey Zhong spots some excellent headwear designed for the occasion. He also reports from his seat that security is unexpectedly not overwhelming inside.
8:58 a.m. The 116th Street gates are closed and quiet with Secret Service agents patrolling, but if you’d like to hang out around upper campus, Earl Hall gates are open!
8:48 a.m. Security teams are getting briefed. News deputy Yasmin Gagne has a photo.
8:45 a.m. The programs are out! Here’s a peek.
8:43 a.m. According to tweeter @afkane, the first parent through Carman Gate had lined up at 4:30 a.m.
8:38 a.m. Gina also has figured out ticket color-coding: Red tickets are on the west side of South Lawn, blue tickets on the east, and green tickets in the tent with POTUS.
8:34 a.m. News deputy Gina Lee reports that the line is moving quickly—and that there are “free goodies!”
8:27 a.m.: It’s begun! Grads and guests are lined up outside the gates and outside Roone. According to campus news editor Sammy Roth, the line for guests stretches from the gates to 114th, and the line of soon-to-be alumnae from Lerner to Ricky’s.
WHEN AND WHERE YOU SHOULD BE TO GET IN
The procession begins at 12 noon, departing from Roone Arledge Auditorium and walking to South Lawn. For graduates, you should arrive at the Broadway entrance of Roone (between 114th and 115th streets) by 8 a.m., wearing cap and gown and carrying Barnard ID. Only a small personal bag is permitted.
Guests of graduates and other ticket holders will enter South Lawn via the Carman and John Jay Gates on 114th Street. Guests with disabilities enter via the 115th Street Gate next to Lerner Hall. The seating area opens by 8 a.m. and all guests must be seated by 11 a.m.
Barnard’s website has a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about what you may and may not bring. Be prepared to go through airport-like security:
You may bring a very small personal item. People with large bags will not be admitted, and all bags are subject to search. All items will be individually screened and examined, so please help us facilitate guest entry by bringing only absolutely essential items.
If you don’t have a ticket, we urge you to steer clear of campus. Every building on South Campus has been shut down—even the one you probably passed many late-night hours in over the last few weeks, Butler. You can watch the ceremony live here.
IN THE MEDIA
But if you’re just sitting at home waiting for the speech to start, listen to Barnard President Debora Spar on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week discussing the speech.
If you’re in the New York area, turn to Fox’s “Good Day NY” at around 9:15 a.m., where Spec’s Editor in Chief Sarah Darville will be discussing Obama’s personal history with Columbia with anchors Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly. We’ll get that clip online as soon it we can.
After his speech, Obama will head to Chelsea, where he’ll be the guest of honor at a $5,000-a-ticket fundraiser hosted by singer Ricky Martin and the LGBT Leadership Council.
And if you want to relive the whole drama from this semester, read our Year in Review article about the impact of Obama’s speech, which most notably pushed the School of General Studies’ Class Day, originally scheduled for this morning, to Sunday. It went off without a hitch yesterday.
At around 2 a.m. last night, setup was in full swing, with all campus gates locked down.
Lined up on College Walk were rows and rows of white vans and the police’s K9 division—the Secret Service dogs that, according to emails sent out to South Lawn residents, sniffed through all residence halls in South Campus. Overheard on College Walk on Sunday between police and K9 units, courtesy of sports editor Jeremiah Sharf: “There are like 12 floors of stacks on the inside … it’s really fucking complicated.”
On Broadway, Public Safety was working with the New York Police Department:
And on 114th Street, rows to contain the long lines of guests that will be filtering in from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. were being set up:
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