As commencement exercises are being conducted at institutions of higher education across the country, women’s voices are taking a prominent place in offering congratulations, advice and inspiration to the graduating classes of 2011. In a series of posts, Women’s Voices for Change is sharing excerpts from selected commencement addresses.




Columbia University

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles Ducommon Professor of Education at Stanford University
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York
May 18, 2011

We live in a nation that is on the verge of forgetting its children. The United States now has a far higher poverty rate for children than any other industrialized country (25 percent, nearly double what it was 30 years ago); a more tattered safety net—more who are homeless, without health care and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education (a 10:1 ratio in spending across the country); a larger and more costly system of incarceration than any country in the world, including China (5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates), one that is now directly cutting into the money we should be spending on education; a defense budget larger than that of the next 20 countries combined; and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country (the wealthiest 1 percent of individuals control 25 percent of the resources in the country; in New York City, the wealthiest 1 percent control 46 percent of the wealth and are taxed at a lower level than in the last 60 years). Our leaders do not talk about these things. They simply say of poor children, “Let them eat tests.”

And while there is lots of talk of international test score comparisons, there is too little talk about what high-performing countries actually do: fund schools equitably; invest in high-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and leaders, completely at government expense; organize a curriculum around problem-solving and critical-thinking skills; and test students rarely—and never with multiple-choice tests.(Indeed, the top-performing nations increasingly rely on school-based assessments of learning that include challenging projects, investigations and performances, much like what leading educators have created here in the many innovative New York public schools.)

Meanwhile, the profession of teaching and our system of public education are under siege from another wave of scientific managers, who have forgotten that education is about opening minds to inquiry and imagination, not stuffing them like so many dead turkeys—that teaching is about enabling students to make sense of their experience, to use knowledge for their own ends, and to learn to learn, rather than to spend their childhoods bubbling in Scantron sheets to feed the voracious data banks that govern ever more decisions from the bowels of the bureaucracy.



Pace University

Jo Ivey Boufford
President of the New York Academy of Medicine
Pace University
New York
May 22, 2011

Did you know that the U.S. spends more per capita and a larger percentage of its GDP than any other nation on health? What we have to show for these expenditures is impressive – the world’s most technologically sophisticated personal health care system alongside tremendous advances in biomedical research.

But their combined effect on the overall health of the U.S. population has been disappointing. Among the world’s richest countries, the U.S. currently ranks 23rd globally in infant mortality, and 21st in adult life expectancy. One in three adults is obese and 7 out of 10 premature deaths are from generally preventable non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes. In many parts of our country and here in this city, health disparities are actually increasing, especially in poor communities, which are often communities of color.

So why have our investments not resulted in higher levels of health? We now have a great deal of evidence showing that health is affected by many factors or determinants—not only health care; in fact, only about 10 percent of premature deaths in the United States are due to a lack of access to personal health care.

Twenty percent are due to the physical and built environment, like pollutants in the air we breathe and urban planning that doesn’t provide adequate, safe spaces for physical activity. And 50 percent of premature mortality is due to risk behaviors like smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and alcohol and substance abuse, all behaviors that are heavily influenced by the socioeconomic conditions in which people live—conditions that limit the healthy choices they can make.

The most important conclusion to be drawn from these findings is that if we are going to create healthy communities, all the many stakeholders in the community—businesses, community-based organizations, schools, the media, the health care system and local government public health professionals must:

l) share a good understanding of the health problems they face,
2) be aware of the actions that have been proven to work, and
3) develop agreements to work together to act for health.

Health is truly everyone’s business.




Ursula M. Burns
Chairman and chief executive of Xerox Corporation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Mass.
June 3, 2011

Change, but be true to yourself in the process. Your family … MIT … your church or synagogue or mosque or mountaintop … have given you a set of core values — a moral compass. Hang on to it.

I have a great sign that hangs on the wall of my office:

“Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud!”

Your life’s journey will include some turbulent waters. You will face difficult choices. You will be challenged and tested. The values you have developed through family and MIT will hold you in good stead. They are your roots, but you have also been given wings — the ability to dare to dream the impossible and then make that dream a reality.

Set your sights on changing the world — in leaving this planet a little better than you found it. That need not be as grandiose as it sounds. It can take the form of getting involved with one of the big ideas of our time … or working for an organization that creates decent jobs for its workers … or raising a family that will carry good values into the future.

Believe in something larger than yourself. Make a difference. Live your life so that at the end of your journey, you will know that your time here was well spent, that you left behind more than you took away.



Other posts in the Collected Wisdom series:

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