Last week, 37-year-old soccer champ Abby Wambach delivered the commencement speech at Barnard College’s graduation. Though over a week has passed, people can’t stop talking about Wambach’s powerful message and the four “rules” she passed on to the young women in attendance, grounded in the instruction that the Barnard class of 2018 — and, by extension, women everywhere — should not see themselves as careful Little Red Riding Hoods hewing to a safe and cautious path: “If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be this: ‘Abby, you were never Little Red Riding Hood; you were always the wolf.'”
Wambach, who recently retired from soccer, went on to tell the Barnard graduates:
“Women are feared as a threat to our system—and we will also be our society’s salvation. Our landscape is overrun with archaic ways of thinking about women, about people of color, about the “other,” about the rich and the poor, about the powerful and the powerless—and these ways of thinking are destroying us.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We will not Little Red Riding Hood our way through life. We will unite our pack, storm the valley together and change the whole bloody system.”
She proceeded to pass along the wisdom that she had gained over the course of her life, career, and in the transitional moment of leaving the known road of professional sports. Rule number one: “Make failure your fuel.”
“Listen: Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be POWERED by,” she said. “Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel.”
Wambach’s second rule, “lead from the bench,” instructed women to be leaders from wherever life puts them, even if it’s not where they’d hoped to end up. Her fourth rule, “demand the ball,” called on women to be bold about their goals and unashamed to chase their wants.
Then, of course, there was rule three: “Champion each other.”
“Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.
As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ 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.”
As Wambach’s speech continues to make waves, she tells ABC News that the goal for her powerful address was simple: for young women everywhere to know “that they can be the one.”
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty)