Actress Viola Davis Named Barnard College Commencement Speaker

Commencement NEW YORK, April 1, 2019 – Barnard College announced today that Viola Davis, the award-winning actress, producer and humanitarian, will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2019 at Barnard College’s 127th Commencement on May 20, 2019. Davis will receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, for her stellar work in the performing arts as well as being an outspoken advocate of human rights. Barnard will also award medals to Sana Amanat ’04, vice president for content and character development at Marvel Comics and creator of the first Muslim superhero; Cherríe Moraga, the internationally recognized feminist poet, essayist and playwright; and Shirley Adelson Siegel ’37, trailblazing civil rights and fair housing attorney.

Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock, who will preside over the ceremony and confer the Medals of Distinction, will present the degree candidates and address an expected audience of 3,500 family, friends, faculty, and staff. The ceremony will begin at 4:00 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“I am thrilled to have Viola Davis bring words of inspiration to our 2019 graduates,” said President Beilock. “Throughout her extraordinary career, she has portrayed complex characters with honesty and heart and has been a fearless voice for women, women of color, and all who deserve to be recognized. Ms. Davis, Ms. Amanat, Ms. Moraga and Ms. Siegel are the embodiment of Barnard’s commitment to academic excellence and to making a difference in the world. I look forward to presenting these exceptional women with the College’s most distinct honor.”

Graduates will also hear from Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82, Chair of the Barnard College Board of Trustees, whose dedication to Barnard students is manifest in her professional and personal commitments to the College. The Cheryl and Philip Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning at Barnard College opened in the fall of 2018 and is home to the College’s library and interdisciplinary educational opportunities in design, computational science, digital humanities, media, empirical reasoning, and movement.

In recent years, Barnard’s Commencement speakers have included President Barack Obama, soccer star and equal-pay advocate Abby Wambach, Doctors Without Borders International President Joanne Liu, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, actress Meryl Streep, and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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About Barnard

Barnard provides a singular educational experience, as a world-renowned college focused on excellence across the arts and sciences, with all the academic resources of Columbia University and the City of New York as an extended classroom. Founded in 1889, Barnard was one of the few colleges in the nation where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, Barnard is one of the most selective academic institutions in the country and remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional. For more information on Barnard College, contact Barnard Media Relations at 212-854-2037 or To learn more, follow Barnard on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


About the Medalists

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