Feminist Artist Judy Chicago to Smith College Graduates: "I have lived the life I wanted to live"
At commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 14, artist, author and educator Judy Chicago, creator of "The Dinner Party" and a key figure in the founding of the feminist art movement, told Smith College students and their families that although her life has often been difficult, she has no regrets about the path she chose.
"I was raised in a family that believed in equal rights for women, which was quite unusual at the time, though I did not know this as my parents never told me that their beliefs were not shared by most other people of their generation.
"I was also taught to believe that the purpose of life was to make a contribution to a better world, an attitude that today, in what is sometimes described as a 'post-feminist' world, is often seen as quaint, particularly if one's idea of making a difference concerns the status of women."
Chicago recounted the challenges she faced in entering the "macho" Los Angeles art scene of the 1960s and her decade-long journey from shunning her identity as a woman artist to embracing it.
"Along the way, I learned something very important. Without meaning to, most of our educational institutions infantalize women. Although it is difficult for all students to make the transition from school to life, it is harder for most women students because few of them are schooled in how to become independent, feeling able to generate what they need for themselves rather than being dependent upon others."
Noting the irony of expressing these thoughts on Mother's Day, Chicago rejected the prevailing attitude that career success and family are both attainable.
"I believe that one of the pernicious lies that has been told to your generation is that one can 'have it all.' Although I can't explain how I knew it, I always knew that this was not possible. [When] I looked to history, I discovered that those women who had achieved at the level at which I had set my sights had been childless and those that were not had suffered constant guilt at not being able to meet the demands of both their work and their children."
Chicago received an honorary doctoral degree from Smith, as did four other distinguished individuals: Ann Brown, chair of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission; Johnnetta B. Cole, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies, and African-American Studies at Emory University; Donald C. Hood, James F. Bender Professor of Psychology at Columbia University; and Mamphela Ramphele, a leading higher education reformer in South Africa.
At the college's 122nd commencement ceremony, 667 undergraduates and 52 graduate students received degrees.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's best liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.
May 16, 2000
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