Key Themes From 2018’s Surge Of Female Speakers At College Commencements
In my post “Female Parity (Finally!) at 2018 Commencement Podiums,” I presented data that demonstrates how women have been grossly underrepresented as college commencement speakers for decades. (This, despite the fact that since the 1980’s women have been awarded more bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees than their male counterparts.)
2018 was different. At the 25 richest schools, women made up the majority of commencement speakers for the first time – 60 percent to be exact. The first blogpost explored the possible explanations for the shift and raised the question: Was the female representation on this year’s campus podiums only a trendy moment for women—or will 2018 mark a gender equity turning point?
This blogpost extends the discussion and reviews the key themes addressed by the 2018 female speakers at the commencement podiums. Did we sufficiently inspire and influence the graduates so that the number of female speakers 2018 was not an aberration, but rather the beginning of a sustainable year-after-year trend?
No Shying Away from “Thorny” Issues
Given the unprecedented opportunity presented by the 2018 commencement season, I was intensely curious about the speeches delivered. My most pressing question? To what extent did this first wave of female graduation speakers rise to the occasion? Seeking an answer, I reviewed dozens of the female speakers’ video clips and transcripts. Not surprisingly, these commencement speeches were a mixed lot–both in content and delivery. I did find similarities, however, in the chosen speakers’ themes.
The Washington Post had predicted that “graduates can expect to hear speeches on equality, inclusivity and other topics that might have been seen as too thorny in the past”. True enough. Most speeches did, indeed, give voice to “thorny” issues. Speakers addressed race relations, sexual harassment, gender pay inequity, and numerous other divisive political topics. I have grouped these subjects into five overarching themes: