Champion soccer player Abby Wambach told the 2018 graduating class of Barnard College, an all-women’s school, that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion with the U.S. women’s national team, Wambach is an incredibly accomplished athlete. In 2012, she was named FIFA World Player of The Year – the first American woman to do so in 10 years.
With her accomplishments on the field making her one of the best soccer players in history, Wambach has expressed that she still felt behind men in sports who were accomplishing similar feats in their own careers.
In her commencement speech at Barnard, Wambach spoke of the ESPYS where she was honored with the inaugural icon award shortly after retiring from soccer. Standing alongside Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant, she “had a moment of extreme awe” and felt she had “arrived,” but quickly realized that these men were walking away with something that she was not – full bank accounts.
Regardless of the “amount of blood sweat and tears” shed by all three athletes or the “ferocity, talent and commitment” that they showed, they would not be equally honored when it came to retirement and their futures.
“It hit me that I’d spent most of my time during my career the same way I’d spent my time on that ESPYs stage,” she said. “Just feeling grateful. Grateful to be one of the only women to have a seat at the table. I was so grateful to receive any respect at all for myself that I often missed opportunities to demand equality for all of us.”
Wambach went on to express that many young women are taught to be like Little Red Riding Hood. That is, to always stay on the path, to disregard the reality of a situation, and to fear what is unknown. Instead, Wambach urged graduates to be the wolf.
“We will not Little Red Riding Hood our way through life,” she announced, “We will unite our pack, storm the valley together and change the whole bloody system.”
She went on to reinforce the importance of women finding strength in numbers by saying that they must always stand together in support of other women who are succeeding.
“As you go out into the world: Amplify each other’s voices. Demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins, and just like we do on the field claim the success of one woman as a collective success for all women.”
Wambach deserved to be on that stage next to Manning and Bryant, just as many other women athletes have deserved spots next to accomplished male athletes. But with that strength, work and passion, there is an expectation that this commitment will be met with equal pay, benefits, and honor regardless of gender, race, religion, or any other differences. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
“Joy. Success. Power,” Wambach said. “These are not pies where a bigger slice for her means a smaller slice for you. These are infinite. In any revolution, the way to make something true starts with believing it is. Let’s claim infinite joy, success, and power – together.”
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