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Meryl Streep courtesy of NYPL
Meryl Streep courtesy of NYPL

8 Inspiring Speeches Made by Famous New York Women

Picture of Derek Doyle
Updated: 14 November 2016
In anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we look to commemorate the economic, political, artistic, and social achievements of women in the past, present, and future. New York City has and will continue to birth, build, and strengthen women in all aspects of social achievement. The women of New York have conceptualized their personal paths and eloquently vocalized their perspectives to inspire those who will follow in their footsteps. Here, we look at eight heartfelt, hilarious, and inspirational speeches given by NYC women.


Arianna Huffington

‘Don’t buy society’s definition of success, because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it’s not working for men, it’s not working for polar bears, it’s not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness, and high blood pressure. So please don’t settle for just breaking through glass ceilings in a broken corporate system or in a broken political system, where so many leaders are so disconnected from their own wisdom that we are careening from one self-inflicted crisis to another. Change much more than the ‘M’ to a ‘W’ at the top of the corporate flow chart. Change it by going to the root of what’s wrong and redefining what we value and what we consider success.’

– Arianna Huffington, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post in a commencement address at Smith College in 2013 

Arianna Huffington courtesy of

Arianna Huffington | Image Courtesy of Smith

Meryl Streep

‘That choice, between the devil and the dream, comes up every day in different little disguises. I’m sure it comes up in every field of endeavor and every life. My advice is to look the dilemma in the face and decide what you can live with. If you can live with the devil, Vassar hasn’t sunk her teeth into your leg the way she did mine. But that conscience, that consciousness of quality, and the need to demand it can galvanize your energies, not just in your work, but in a rigorous exercise of mind and heart in every aspect of your life. I firmly believe that this engagement in the attempt for excellence is what sustains the most well-lived and satisfying, successful lives.’

– Three-time Academy, Grammy, and Tony award-winning actress and rights equality activist Meryl Streep’s commencement address at Vassar College in 1983

Gabourey Sidibe

‘If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable. So when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!’

– Academy Award-nominated actress and author Gabourey Sidibe’s acceptance speech at the Ms. Foundation Gloria Awards Ceremony and Gala in 2014

Gabourey Sidibe courtesy of ms foundation

Gabourey Sidibe | Image Courtesy of the Ms. Foundation 

Natalie Portman

‘Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons. Accept your lack of knowledge, and use it as your asset…If your reasons are your own, your path, even if it’s a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours, and you will control the rewards of what you do by making your internal life fulfilling.’

– Academy Award-winning actress, Feed the Children ambassador, entrepreneur, and animal rights activist Natalie Portman, from her Class Day address to seniors at Harvard University in 2015

Natalie Portman courtesy of

Natalie Portman | Image Courtesy of Harvard University

Lady Gaga

The stories of all my beautiful fans, the young soldiers, the homeless LGBT youth, anti-gay violence, and the effect that the denial of gay marriage has on real families worldwide — these are the stories that must be told to the world. These are the stories that will change the world. These are the stories that speak out in the defense of love. We are here today because we are not less valuable. We are here to proclaim our strength, our steadfastness, and our intelligence. We will not be treated as anything less than human.’

– Grammy Award-winning artist, Born This Way Foundation founder and LGBT activist Lady Gaga, at a performance at Rome’s Europride festival in 2011

Lady Gaga courtesy of Reuters

Lady Gaga | Image Courtesy of Reuters

Zadie Smith

‘Walk down these crowded streets with a smile on your face. Be thankful you get to walk so close to other humans. It’s a privilege. Don’t let your fellow humans be alien to you, and as you get older and perhaps a little less open than you are now, don’t assume that exclusive always and everywhere means better. It may only mean lonelier. There will always be folks hard-selling you the life of the few: the private schools, private plans, private islands, [and] private life. They are trying to convince you that hell is other people. Don’t believe it. We are far more frequently each other’s shelter and correction, the antidote to solipsism, and so many windows on this world.’

– Lannan Foundation board member, Royal Society of Literature member, NYU tenured professor and award winning author Zadie Smith, speaking to young writers at the New School in 2014

Zadie Smith courtesy of

Zadie Smith | Image Courtesy of The New School

Hellen Keller

Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human being. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.’

– Women’s Suffrage, Labor Rights, political activist, and award-winning author and lecturer Hellen Keller, from her ‘Strike Against War’ speech at Carnegie Hall in 1916

Helen Keller courtesy of the NYPL

Helen Keller | Image Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Maya Angelou

‘Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes,

Into your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.’

– Pulitzer Prize, Grammy Award, Tony Award, and Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, from the award-winning poem On the Pulse of Morning, read theatrically at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993

Maya Angelou courtesy of the NYPL

Maya Angelou | Image Courtesy of the New York Public Library


By Derek Doyle

Derek Doyle was born in Aspen, CO. After starting his career as a pro skier, he lived abroad in London, UK and Palma, Majorca. After graduating from City University of New York, he now resides as a writer in the counter culture of the music and art scene of New York City.