The 2012 commencement speaker is, by most measures, a tenacious individual. This year’s speaker is a journalist who has worked in crisis zones ranging from Iraq to Somalia, places that regularly bring grown men to their knees.
CNN host Christiane Amanpour also happens to be a woman — one of USC’s six female commencement speakers since 1924.
USC’s choices have shown a certain neglect for women’s achievements. In earlier decades, the lack of female commencement speakers made sense; in the United States, women couldn’t vote until 1920.
But as the decades passed and women gained more rights and agency, one would expect to see a steady increase in female commencement speakers. That clearly hasn’t been the case.
Nevertheless, by choosing Amanpour to send off the class of 2012, USC is showing a willingness to progress. We hope it will not take much longer to see another woman at the podium.
Some people might argue that the status quo at USC is favorable to women. Indeed, more than half the undergraduate population is female, and young women hold leadership positions in a wide variety of student organizations.
Unfortunately, matters in the real world are different. As a society, we’re used to seeing women at the workplace, but we’re still not used to seeing them in charge. In May 2011, only 12 Fortune 500 companies were led by women. The media has portrayed powerful women as either airheads or shrews — see: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
It is difficult to imagine oneself in a leading role without good role models. As such, a university that does not choose female commencement speakers reinforces the following message: As a woman, you can get your education and go to work, but the top is for men only.
By choosing Amanpour, an internationally recognized journalist who has courageously reported from many frontlines, USC will remind its female graduates that their leadership experience need not stay confined to their student years.
Here’s to hoping USC picks another woman like Amanpour. She might even be a Trojan.