The New Greatest Generation: Commencement Address by Dede Thompson Bartlett

Gloria Feldt
5 min readMay 20, 2024


Issue 259— May 20, 2024

It’s challenging to think of an original idea when called upon to give a commencement speech, but my friend and International Women’s Forum colleague Dede Thompson Bartlett gave an outstanding address to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering class of 2024 on May 16, 2024.

Dede is a pioneering woman who ascended to executive ranks as Vice President and Corporate Secretary of two Fortune 500 companies, Exxon Mobil and Altria, now retired. She has been a leader way ahead of her time in advancing domestic violence education programs, and a philanthropist who has nurtured and provided opportunities to students at several universities.

You can watch Dede’s fantastic commencement speech here, beginning at 1:15:15.

On a personal note, she provided the initial funding and the idea for Take The Lead to name the Leading Man Award in memory of my late husband, Alexander Barbanell. It’s an award we give annually at the annual Power Up Conference to a man who has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in leadership. Alex certainly filled that description, as have previous honorees, Leon Silver, Vada Manager, and Darnell Moore.

We will soon announce the 2024 honoree and present the award on August 26, Women’s Equality Day, in Washington DC. (Click here to be first to know about early bird ticket sales and program. And watch this spot weekly for updates.)

Now enjoy and be inspired by Dede Thompson Bartlett’s speech:

Congratulations Tandon!

What a tremendous day! Students, parents, guests of honor, deans and faculty, I am honored to be with you today. Today, we all proudly wear the purple. For me, this is especially meaningful — because my family and I owe so much to Tandon and NYU. My dad graduated from Tandon almost 100 years ago when it was known as Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

My mom graduated from NYU almost 70 years ago.

And I received my masters from NYU 55 years ago.

Like many of you, my parents and I learned our degrees the hard way. And like you — during uncertain times — much like those we are all experiencing today. When my dad graduated with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 1930, our country was entering the Great Depression followed by World War II. He supported his parents for 15 years while working two jobs…one of which was as an adjunct professor here at Tandon.

My mom was the smartest girl in the state of Delaware. She graduated from high school at age 15 but was forbidden to go to college. 30 years later, at age 45, she graduated with honors from NYU! She said it was the happiest day of her life.

I received my masters from NYU in 1969 attending classes at night while working full time. The Vietnam War was raging. There was civil unrest. And life was uncertain. Sound familiar?

But the survival skills my parents and I acquired at Tandon and NYU got us through — skills like grit, determination, strength, and resilience.

I believe these are the same skills you also acquired here. What you learned from this place goes far beyond the classroom. You struggled your first 2 years when Covid disrupted your lives.

You took on challenging majors with difficult courses.

You took advantage of the many opportunities at Tandon — like summer research, internships and VIP.

You learned to balance all this and your coursework!

These coping skills will help you when the going gets rough…and it will. You will face unforeseen challenges.

You will learn to live with uncertainty.

You may find that career paths — even for engineers — are not linear.

But — you will learn from these challenges because you already have.

And you will find lots of options.

Exciting new paths will open up for you that no one can foresee now.

You will thrive because you have an unbeatable combination: Brooklyn grit and New York toughness — wow! So, what are you going to do with these gifts?

I believe the answer is simple, and summed up in 3 words:

Learn, earn, return.

Think about that: learn, earn, return.

My mom and dad’s generation was called The Greatest Generation because they survived depression and the war and gave everything to their country and their families.

But I believe there is a new Greatest Generation. After spending the last 12 years with hundreds of you, I believe that you…the class of 2024 ….are the new Greatest Generation.

You will be the generation to tackle climate change and food insecurity.

You will be the generation to bring about discoveries in bio/medicine.

You will be the generation to tackle cybersecurity and disinformation.

You will be the generation to harness AI to help people everywhere.

You have the skills and guts to make a difference, and you will make a difference. And years later, when you look back over your life, I hope you will experience the joy of that third principle I cited — return. Because it is only in giving back that we can fully realize the passion and purpose of our lives. So I salute you — the great class of 2024– and I wish you all the luck in the world. Thank you.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker, a global expert in women’s leadership development and DEI for individuals and companies that want to build gender balance. She is a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at and Find her @GloriaFeldt on all social media.



Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.