Commencement Address

Cathie Black, President, Hearst Magazines

Thank you, I am simply thrilled to be here for the president's first graduation ceremony. President Bottomly, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty, proud families and terrific graduates of the Class of 2008:

I thank you for the honor of speaking before you today on this magnificent day on this magnificient campus and also looking at your faces and feeling the magnificience of your dreams and hopes and aspirations. Before we begin, I do have to share a small secret. I know about the blog.

Immediately after my name was released as your graduation speaker, a blog commenced. The fun of living in a multimedia world.

Blogger #1: “I just found out that my graduation speaker is some woman . . . Cathie Black. Uhhh, who??? I was at least hoping to cap off my Wellesley experience with someone I had maybe heard of. Last year we had Madeline Albright, for heaven's sakes!”

Thank god for Blogger 2. "Oh, c'mon, she's got a pretty cool job. You might learn something. "

Blogger #3: "And she's got a best-selling book on success."

Blogger # 1 comes back in. "I don't care. I think I should have my iPod charged and ask my parents to bring my Gameboy."

So, I've been looking for somebody with batteries in her ears. Maybe getting two positives out of three is not all bad, maybe that's kind of like what life has in store for us.

But on a more serious note, last night's baccalaureate concert was very beautiful. I was once again reminded of the power of music to transform and to uplift. And the collective power of women's voices, not just to sing and to make beautiful music, but also to be agents of change, or to use the phrase from earlier this morning, "to will, and to do."

I am a product of not only a women's college but also of a girls' high school on the southside of Chicago. I feel deeply and strongly about the vision and the purpose of a women's education.

The friends you have made here, the relationships with your professors, those you have chosen as mentors – this is a gift. It is a gift that will keep on giving, particularly as you nurture these friendships, as you go out on your own life's path. Really take advantage of them.

My career has been in the media field, as you've heard, both in newspapers and magazines. Although I've never run for office, I've been in the same offices with some pretty heady folks like Oprah Winfrey – with whom we've had the pleasure of doing a very successful magazine for nine years – Gloria Steinem, Rupert Murdoch, movie producer Harvey Weinstein. They all have a vision. They all want to change the world in their own ways.

I've had the thrill and the pleasure of working with prominent editors like Wellesley graduate Ellen Levine, from the class of '64, and great writers and brilliant photographers. People who love the written word, the great story, the beautiful photograph, and now more than ever, with people who have paved the way to the exciting digital world that is such a part of my every day now and yours as well.

I’m also a wife, married to the love of my life for 26 years, and a mother of two teenagers, which is mostly good. I’m a sister. I'm a sister-in-law. I’m an aunt. And this year,a best-selling author. What thrills me is that this book will be in 12 countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. I don't know what will happen to me if I go to Saudi Arabia.

Everyone knows it takes a lot of brains to get into Wellesley – and even more brains to get through it – to master the coursework and intellectual rigors that have led you to this very day.

But it also takes a certain amount of courage to choose a school like this, a school that demands excellence and commitment and where your peers are just as smart. A school renowned not only for high academic standards but for high ethical and personal standards. The kind of place sends students around the world to do good, that launches a few dozen students into New Orleans to work over spring break, or dispatches 100,000 books around the world to hopefully combat illiteracy. I'm sure some of you will go on to AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.

We’re grateful for the enormous investment that you, your families and this college have made in those very large brains of yours. The world needs your intelligence. But we need your courage even more.

The nature of courage changes over time, just as the nature of fear does. Over the millennia, we have lost our fear of thunder and lightning, of evil demons and yes, even wooly mammoths. But we still harbor fear of one another, particularly people who do not look like us.

That fear is palpable today, in what we call the “post-9/11 world.” And you – each and every one of you in front of me – are its progeny, the first generation to come of age under fear’s newest regime. Few generations in recent history have had greater need of courage than yours. Global politics and planetary peril have conspired against you. You could be excused, perhaps, for feeling small and maybe a little insecure – no one would begrudge it. Yet looking into your extraordinary faces this morning, we see none of that.

What do we see? Intelligence, of course. But I also feel confidence and boldness and determination. And a few of your parents on occasion may have pointed out that narrow but quite steely streak of defiance and independence. Forgive them their sins – they might have confused it with stubbornness.

Wellesley has never been a place to go looking for damsels in distress. It’s a school for dragon slayers. And not the Gameboy kind, either – I’m talking about the real thing. Women who dare to be different. Women who can break down a complex problem. Women who can break through a glass ceiling. Women who can break new ground. Women who can get it done.

Many of your “challenges” – which is the commencement day euphemism for “massive and seemingly insoluble problems”  – are unique to your era. Others are ancient and familiar. But all of them will require sustained courage. Your courage.

My generation isn’t clueless. At least not as clueless as we sometimes seem. We know about climate change and environmental degradation. We’re not oblivious to poverty and growing inequality in the United States and around the globe. We’ve even grappled with a lot of the gender and ethnic and racial and religious strife that the world has thrown our way. We’ve generated some of it, as well.

In our defense, we've not been total disasters. True, we’ve made some very bad decisions, run a few genuinely bad businesses, spoiled a very pretty planet. We've been blind about how many have too little.

But we’ve also managed enormous technological change without falling off the edge of the world. We’ve done our best adapting to difficult structural changes in an unforgiving global economy. We’ve achieved significant, lasting advances for women and people of diversity – just look at the 60 flags in this tent today – enabling all of us to participate more fully in American life and enabling American life to benefit from our contributions.

Maybe we could have done more. But we’re easily distracted.

When we have fallen short in our personal lives and in our public obligations, more often than not we had enough intelligence and energy to get the job done. We just came up short on courage – by a failure of imagination or a failure of nerve, maybe a lack of gumption or commitment.

Everything that we love about this world runs on courage. Amelia Earhart and Virginia Woolf. Billie Jean King and Anwar Sadat. Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Aung San  Suu Kyi.

 What you’ll find as you get a little bit older is that even personal happiness does require courage. Some commitments must be made and some abandoned. Decisions must be taken. What’s right for your friends may not be right for you. What your parents want you to do may not be right for you. You may find yourself pursuing a singular path. Or you may surprise yourself by following a more conventional trail than you had ever imagined.

Either way, a full life, what I call a 360-degree life, one that blends work, family, friends, faith, community and volunteering, will be as demanding – and rewarding – as you make it. I’m not here to tell you that you can’t have it all. That’s not how I've ever seen it. There will be wins and losses. That's life. There will be surprises. That's life too. You may lose something along the way or you may not, but either way I’m asking you to have the guts to go for everything you want.

Love is a word that’s both overused and underappreciated. But it has enormous meaning in life as it does in language. It’s something worth striving for, worth contemplating, worth developing yourself and nurturing in your family, your friendships, your community, your world. More love is always better than less.

The foundation of all those different loves is loving life itself – in all its quirky manifestations. I like running a company. I love my family. I love the written word, I love stiletto heels, and I love Thanksgiving – and I cook it. I text really, really fast because my 16-year-old said, "Mom, e-mail is for old people." Thanks, Allison. But until then, I’m not willing to cede any ground in this life. I won’t give up an inch – even in flats. So why on earth should you?

You are old enough and you’ve seen enough to know that many dreams don’t survive. They sputter and collapse. They flame out. They fade away. They get lost.

Your dreams demand even greater care, even greater responsibility. You are not struggling for survival in a remote village of a desperate land. You are equipped with one of the finest educations available anywhere on this planet. You stand on the brink of a dynamic, if unpredictable, global economy and a polyglot popular culture that rewards intelligence and the kind of agility and sophistication that you acquired at Wellesley, maybe without even trying.

You have everything – everything – that you require. You just need the courage to stake that claim and don't back down. This is your hour to take the stage. This is your moment to seize the spotlight. And this is the time and place. Here and now. In a century that will be not only marked but defined by the unbridled achievement of women, by your contributions and by achievement of a scope and magnitude the world and certainly the U.S. has not yet known.

With that in mind, I have just one very modest request: Astonish us.

Thank you.