In her May 16 commencement address to the graduating class of Spelman College, Ambassador Susan Rice reflected on the historical fight for equality in the United States and challenged the graduating women to continue pursuing the promise of equality around the world.
Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts school for women based in Atlanta, GA, was the first such institution to receive its collegiate charter in 1924. Last year, Spelman ranked first among historically black colleges and/or universities in U.S. News and World Report. Distinguished Spelman alumni include Aurelia Brazeal, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia; Ruth A. Davis, former Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service; and Keshia Knight Pulliam, who starred in The Cosby Show.
In her address to the 550 graduates, Ambassador Rice recounted the many sacrifices made by past civil rights leaders in their quest for equality, while underscoring the continued struggles of her own generation. She referred to the graduates as the "generation after Joshua" and set a high bar for them: "No generation of African-American women has ever had more opportunity than you do. What we expect of you is not excuses. It is, simply put, excellence."
Drawing a connection to her global leadership role at the United Nations, Ambassador Rice challenged the graduating class to expand their pursuit of equality beyond the United States, and to ensure equality of opportunity in forgotten communities and fragile states around the globe. "Human beings around the world share common dreams -- dreams of freedom, prosperity and security," she said. "So being serious about equality means striving to realize those shared hopes that unite ordinary people across our interconnected world."
Rice also left the students with a handful of personal lessons about the importance of family and following one's heart. While your careers are important, always remember to "put family first," she said. "Follow your heart, support one another, make a difference and always be true to yourself and your values."
Ambassador Rice encouraged graduates to write their stories and to write them well. "If the Joshua generation was about coming into a brave new world, perhaps your generation will be about blazing paths along new frontiers," she said. "If the Joshua generation was about coming into the land, perhaps your generation will be about making it a truly blessed place."
Jennifer Simon is a Senior Advisor to Ambassador Rice and her representative on the White House Council on Women and Girls