Up-Close with Co-Chair Jonathan Lavine CC’88

We sat down with Co-Chair Jonathan Lavine CC’88 for an in-depth Q&A on the Core to Commencement Campaign.

What is the significance of the campaign name, Core to Commencement?  
Core to Commencement is about more than just the Core Curriculum and being a Columbia graduate. It is meant to represent the totality of one’s experience at Columbia, which starts with the Core in freshman year and does not end when you graduate. As Dean Valentini says, “we are all future alums or former students.”  I think the campaign is trying to embody that.

What makes a Columbia College education distinctive and worthy of this initiative? 
Columbia distinguishes itself by teaching students how to think critically. I work in a business that is very numbers-oriented and requires constant problem solving, but I only took one year of economics at Columbia and no math. I gained the ability to assess puzzles and solve them through the Core. Moreover, Columbia forces you out of your comfort zone, so you can't spend four years only studying the things that you think you like or the things that you think you're good at. And it is because of the academic journey on which Columbia put me that I ended up majoring in Political Science and concentrating in English, neither of which would have been on my list when I got there. The English Department taught me pattern recognition and the Political Science Department taught me game theory, both of which have been invaluable to me in running my firm successfully.

What aspect of the campaign most excites you?
At its heart, the College is about students and faculty. I am passionate about this campaign’s mission to deepen the relationship between these two extraordinary groups of people. This is an endeavor that will create an incredibly positive ecosystem at Columbia for the next 100 years. 

What is your primary objective as co-chair of this campaign?
I hope to inspire others to investigate the campaign and find what excites them. I hope to display enthusiasm that is infectious and show leadership in word and in deed by supporting the campaign with time and resources.

What is your favorite Core memory?
I was terrified that Music Humanities was going to stand between me and graduation. I didn’t have any sense of rhythm; everything sounded the same to me. I was fortunate to have a really innovative professor who worked closely with me to overcome that fear. I was given assignments that were not only creative, but relevant to contemporary society. This was in the mid 1980s, and I will never forget my paper investigating how the advent of MTV would forever alter the music world.

Speaking of Core memories, I am in a unique position in that my daughter and I both took Literature Humanities from the same professor. That's pretty cool. In this campaign we emphasize the importance of students and alumni bonding around the experience of the Core. Imagine when you have the same full tenured professor teaching you and your daughter thirty years apart. That is a truly amazing thing to share across a generation.

How has remaining engaged with Columbia enriched your life since graduation? 
My family has been exposed to my unwavering love for Columbia. They see how I work it into my life, and how at so many junctures I am able to connect my success and happiness back to what I learned as a student. I think my daughters chose to attend Columbia because of how my educational experience reveals itself in my everyday life. I went to public high school in downtown Providence. I had only been to New York City once at age six, and never visited again until I set foot on Columbia's campus. From the moment I got there I knew Columbia was different. It was a transformative time in my adult life and shaped who I am today. Seeing that journey begin with my daughters is just wonderful.

The cover of my older daughter’s Facebook page is a photo of her at age four, sitting on my lap on the sundial during my 10th reunion.  Little did either of us know then, but that was the beginning of her own Columbia journey, one that has already been transformational for her.



Photo credit: Elliot Haney

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