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Nora Ephron’s Terrific 1996 Commencement Address at Wellesley College

The beloved feminist writer and humorist would have turned 74 today. Read More

By / May 19, 2014

The great writer, feminist, food-lover, and filmmaker Nora Ephron would have turned 74 today—and I can think of no better way to honor her legacy than by spending half an hour clicking through YouTube clips of her movies and interviews while eating cookies and avoiding paperwork. (Ephron was a self-confessed procrastinator, after all.)

There are so many gems worth watching (this, this, and of course, THIS), but her 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College is truly terrific. What’s impressive—and a little disheartening—is how timely the speech is almost 20 years later. Ephron’s vociferous condemnation of workplace sexism, pay disparity, and the sexualization of women in Hollywood could be delivered word-for-word today (minus the Elizabeth Dole/O.J. Simpson references):

What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you—there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you—there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.

Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you—whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.

Bleak stuff, huh? But it’s also warm and witty and wise, and ends on an optimistic note: “Did I say it was hard? Yes, but let me say it again so that none of you can ever say the words, nobody said it was so hard. But it’s also incredibly interesting. You are so lucky to have that life as an option.”

Listen to the whole address here:

Image: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com