Graduates of the class of 2024, we feel like a different commencement speech is needed. So here’s our take: 

You are sitting at the edge of the rest of your lives. Each of you has the potential to leave a legacy that transcends you. The question you each have to answer is what you choose for that legacy. Note the word “choose.” That’s what we want to talk about today. 

First, we’re going to speak directly to the women.  

There are deeply concerning narratives about women’s roles rattling around right now—on social media, on cable news, occasionally spoken from a podium on this exact occasion. Because you are on Tiktok, probably at this very moment, you have almost certainly heard some of these messages circulating: that birth control is dangerous for you, rather than statistically the single most important factor in garnering women financial independence and a role in public life. That women are uniquely qualified for unpaid caregiving when there is no evidence that this is true. That if you are a woman of faith, salvation can only be achieved by relinquishing your financial and professional power. That you can’t be ambitious and be a devoted mother and partner. That when women succeed, men fail. 

All of this is false. All of it. And when we say that, we don’t mean that everything is great for women who choose to work and live beyond or outside of motherhood and marriage. 

We’re going to be honest. It’s not all a pretty picture out there. You are going to find that you will be paid on average 84 cents to the dollar of your male peers, even less if you are a woman of color.  You’re going to find that if you want to have a family, it could cost you quite literally your job or your health. You’re going to find that too much will fall on your shoulders and one in five of you are going to seek help for anxiety or depression. You’re going to find that doctors won’t always believe you, you’re going to get promotion after promotion only to be passed over for C-suite roles. If you run for office or work as a journalist or achieve any level of notoriety, the gendered online harassment will be constant.

But there is good news, my friends, and the good news is: you. Where so many leaders have failed, you are going to fix so many of these problems. How? First, by doing something you already do so well: You are going to question everything.  

You are already questioning if how we work is really how we should work. You are questioning the things that infringe on your mental health. You are questioning what brands you should buy from if they don’t align with certain values you have. 

You are choosing to shop from sustainable brands, you are pushing for salary transparency, eand more flexible working conditions.

So when you hear things like there is one way for women to live and be, that female subservience is the highest virtue—we implore you to simply do what you do, and ask why. 

Why are some people working so hard to convince women—and men—that women’s lives can only look one way—a way that involves almost no power and a lot of unpaid labor? 

Why are some people so invested in women having less control over the size of their families?

And then, we hope you will dare to make your own choices.   

If you choose to be a stay-at-home parent or caregiver—or have to because you do not have access to affordable child care or family care—that is a valid and dignified role, and you should do that. If you don’t want to get married and don’t want to have children but do want to build a career and a life, that is an equally rich and meaningful direction in which to take your energy and skills, and you should do that.  

If you want to have a family and a career—as seems to be the new definition of traditional—it will be challenging but immensely rewarding, and you should do that. 

The diabolical lie that has been served to you is that there is only one right path for you, a path defined not by you but by those who do not know you, because you are a woman. (After all, no one is telling the men that their role is only in the home.) Our deepest wish is that you realize the choice is solely yours, and that you pursue the opportunities you know to be right for you. 

Our nation is disordered. To address that, we need brilliant minds and not just male ones. We need a capacity for nuance and sharp analysis. We need you to ask why and say, “This doesn’t add up.” We need you to seek out ideas different from yours. We need you to protect the right to express those ideas. And we need you prepared to provide a stunning rebuttal, backed up by facts. We don’t need you to be nice, but we do need you to be empathetic and generous. And, again, we need you to build the life you choose, not one chosen for you. 

Now, to the men, including the one whose mom is a physicist. We didn’t forget you. You are more necessary than ever in the home, in the workplace, and in our communities. We need you—we need you to stand up to inequity when you see it. We need you to acknowledge that there is inequity, and not buy into the lie that gender equality is your loss. We don’t have time today to go into all of the ways it is your gain, but you can start by knowing that having a strong workforce where men and women participate equates to a stronger economy and a needed increase in GDP. Or better yet, the undeniable sense we all have when we have righted a wrong. 

So cheers to you, the class of 2024. We wish you a path in life that is solely yours to define. 

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