Continuing the Celebration of Excellence
By Charles J. O’Byrne ’81
President, Columbia College Alumni Association
Columbia College continues to celebrate its 250th birthday in style.
At this month’s John Jay Awards Dinner, hundreds of Columbians
and friends packed the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel for a black-tie
celebration that honored five outstanding members of the College
family. Four are graduates: Stephanie Falcone Bernik ’89,
E. Javier Loya ’91, Philip M. Satow ’63 and Jonathan
S. Sobel ’88. The fifth represents a first — the honoring
of a Columbia parent, Peter S. Kalikow ’02. These distinguished
honorees represent the best in worlds as diverse as medicine, energy
production, pharmaceuticals, finance and real estate.
When the late Dean Arnold Collery ’25 established the John
Jay Awards in 1979, he had a clear sense of what the award would
mean to the College, one that he shared with me on more than one
occasion. He viewed it as a celebration of professional excellence
that would offer the College a key opportunity to raise capital
funds for its many needs, from financial aid to support for the
The decision to give a John Jay Award to a parent marks a further
development in that vision and one that represents the best of what
the College has become during the past two decades. It reflects
a changed reality at Columbia — the creation and development
of an intergenerational family that surrounds our alma mater and
cares for it with time, financial resources and genuine affection.
Parents always have played a critical role in the College’s
existence, primarily through the lives of their sons and daughters,
but never more directly than now. Kalikow embodies the best of all
the parents and family members who play an active role in the College’s
life, from opening their homes (even if they live across the globe)
to newly-admitted students, alumni and faculty, to providing the
financial resources essential to Columbia’s future, to serving
on committees with alumni that help shape College policies and give
invaluable support to Dean Austin Quigley and his colleagues. Parents
now serve on the College’s Board of Visitors, and, as a whole,
parents constitute more than 18 percent of the College’s annual
unrestricted giving. Their professional distinction adds more luster
to Columbia’s crown.
The University’s celebration of the 250th continues at full
speed. President Lee C. Bollinger will be traveling across the country
and abroad to meet with alumni. A spring series of lectures on Columbia’s
history will commence on April 7, moderated by Barnard Professor
Robert McCaughey, author of the recently published history of the
University, Stand, Columbia. A series of symposia also will take
place during the coming months. I encourage everyone to consult
the 250th calendar on page 4, to visit the 250th website (www.c250.columbia.edu)
or to be in touch with the office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.
Other celebrations are taking place on campus. On April 1, a dinner
in Low Library will mark the 20th anniversary of coeducation at
the College, honoring 10 alumnae who work in higher education. Please
see this issue’s cover story, beginning on page 12, for more
information on the award recipients and the planned celebration.
The story of coeducation coming to Columbia is complicated and
cannot be told without again mentioning Collery. Columbia was the
last of the Ivy League schools to become coeducational, and our
strong relationship with Barnard College gave an appropriate pause
to a course of action that other schools saw as axiomatic. Collery
believed that coeducation would not only mean a stronger and more
vibrant College, but would strengthen Barnard, as well. He had the
courage and foresight to call for a new look at the question of
coeducation and appointed an ad hoc committee of faculty, alumni
and a student (me). That committee was ably chaired by S.L. Mitchill
Professor of Chemistry and University Professor Ronald Breslow and
included many other distinguished faculty. The alumni representative
on the committee and drafter of its report was the founding chair
of the College’s Board of Visitors and founder of the College
Endowment, Ivan Veit ’28.
The success of coeducation at the College cannot be overstated.
Columbia’s extraordinary change in its admissions profile
as well as the extraordinary involvement of so many recent alums
can be traced to the arrival of women on the east side of Broadway.
It’s hard to find the right words to express a change that
is so overwhelming. To say that the College is immeasurably smarter,
more diverse and happier is about the best one can do.
Alumni in classes that end in 4 or 9 will have a chance to celebrate
that fact and their history at Columbia when reunion weekend takes
place June 3–6. Director of Alumni Affairs Ken Catendella
and his talented staff again have developed a program that will
make for a wonderful time for the entire family. For those alumni
who are lucky enough to celebrate their reunions this year, the
weekend will offer an ideal opportunity to return to campus to celebrate
friendships and discoveries.
The creation of the John Jay Awards and the decision to become coeducational
are only two examples that illustrate the difference a dean’s
vision and leadership can make for the College and its future, just
as the leadership of our Dean Quigley has contributed so much to
undergraduate life and to the University as a whole. During the
past two years, Quigley has spearheaded an innovation to the Core
Curriculum, a science component, while making extraordinary efforts
on behalf of a college dean’s “fixed agenda” —
academic affairs, financial aid and student life.
When celebrating a 250th birthday, it’s important to remember
our history and recognize leaders from our past, such as Collery,
and their achievements. Such memories should inspire us to realize
that there is no better time to find new ways to support our present
leadership as together we move forward to the next celebration of