Award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received Barnard College Medal of Distinction, the women college’s highest honour, during its 124th Commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 17, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Barnard is a private women’s liberal arts college in the United States, affiliated with Columbia University. The Barnard Medal of Distinction is the college’s highest honour, serving a similar purpose to an honorary degree. Previous recipients include Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Billie Jean King, Joan Didion and Barack Obama.
The internationally acclaimed writer, who was also awarded an honorary degree by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, United States, on Wednesday, urged the graduates to remember that they are much stronger than the world tells them that they are.
“I think it’s important for young women to remember that they are much stronger than the world tells them that they are.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie earned a prestigious creative writing master’s from Johns Hopkins in 2003, the year her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was published to worldwide acclaim. At just 26, Adichie was shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction and won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and her career has since skyrocketed.
Filmmaker Spike Lee, who was honoured alongside Adichie at Johns Hopkins University, began his speech by referring to two words he said are in almost all of his films to date: “Wake up.” Hear him:
“Wake up from the sleep, wake up from being comatose, wake up from the slumber that keeps your eyes shut to all the inequalities and injustices. To this more often than not evil, crazy and insane world we live in. Let’s move our unconscious minds from the back to the front to a conscious state, and wake up
“We are at a very crucial moment in history in these United States of America. And the way I’m looking at it today, to tell you the truth, things are looking dicey. It can go either way.
“I wish you could be graduating into a world of peace, light, and love, but that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairytale, but I guess the one percent does. After you leave here today, it’s going to be real life, and real life is no joke. It’s real out here for the 99 percent, for sure. It’s up to the graduating class to make a better world.”