Jodi Picoult '87 discusses diversity, privilege during Class Day speech| May 30, 2016
“When somebody tells you no, you have two choices. You can stop in your tracks, or you can push forward,” said author Jodi Picoult ’87, the Class of 2016 Class Day speaker.
Picoult discussed her time at Princeton, from a challenging yet transformative creative writing class to her experience as a manager on the men’s crew team. She talked about overcoming adversity in her career as a novelist, noting the difficulty of being a female author while male authors received more frequent and more complimentary reviews.
She explained that she chose to write about thought-provoking topics inspired by her own life, such as one of her children’s health struggles that influenced her to write her bestselling novel, "My Sister’s Keeper".
She also spoke about her upcoming novel, which discusses what it means to be white and some of the inherent privileges associated with race.
Picoult referenced the conversations about race and rights on Princeton’s campus this year, and stated that although such conversations may make some people uncomfortable, comfort is not an inalienable right.
She expressed the importance of fostering diversity and acceptance, noting that acceptance [to universities] does not guarantee inclusion.
“We are living in a time when the female presidential candidate is berated for not smiling enough and for yelling during her speeches. We are living in a time when the Black Lives Matter movement [advocates for] spaces to raise racial awareness at universities while the press tells them, ‘Stop complaining,’” she said.
Picoult urged those who face these struggles to continue to speak up, and offered that even those who have been privileged by money, race, gender or sexual orientation have a role to play. “Recognize your privilege and step up to the podium, but then pass the microphone to someone who has been marginalized,” she said.
Picoult offered advice to the graduating class in the form of an African proverb, which she quoted as saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
She told the graduating class to be kind and be grateful.
“Don’t just fall in love; stay in love. Adopt a dog,” she added.
The ceremony included remarks from Class Day chairs Azza Cohen ’16, Molly Stoneman ’16 and Daniel Toro ’16, as well as a welcoming address from University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83. Eisgruber noted that the Class of 2016 has gone through many transitions, focusing his speech on the change in location of the Dinky Station and Wawa convenience store during the Class of 2016’s four years on campus.
The program also included remarks from class president Justin Ziegler ’16, a presentation of class prizes by Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan, a presentation of athletic awards by Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux ’91 and an induction of honorary class members to the Class of 2016.
Among the award winners was Ziegler, who received the W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize to honor leadership and contributions to the Class of 2016. Ella Cheng ’16 received the Class of 1901 medal in recognition of her contributions to the University community, and Cohen received the Priscilla Glickman ’92 Memorial Prize in recognition of her work in community service and social justice.
The ceremony featured two other student speakers, Martina Fouquet ’16 and Anna Aronson ’16.This marked the first year in the University's history when all three class day speakers were female.
Fouquet is a politics major with a certificate in creative writing. She discussed her initial impression of Princeton as “perfect”, but explained that its many imperfections make it a more human and special place, joking that Firestone Library reading rooms require University ID cards for entry because the University would not want visitors to see all of the Facebook and Netflix tabs open on students' computers.
Citing Princeton's amended motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of humanity," she said that the University is certainly a place full of humanity, with its members hailing from diverse backgrounds.
Aronson, a sociology major with a certificate in theater, introduced her speech by mentioning that she recently opened a Tinder account, and continued by describing the Princeton experience as a four-year-long first date with the university.
The Tinder account, she explained, was to prepare herself for the transition to life after college.
“Though we may feel butterflies about what lies ahead, our time at this University has given us the courage to ‘swipe right’ for our own passions and pursuits in the future. A Ph.D. A family. A celebrity crush,” she said, making a joke that hers would be Eisgruber.
The ceremony was held for members of the Class of 2016 in the University Chapel on Monday, May 30, at 10:30 a.m.