Celebrating the 2024 John Jay Awards

Friday, March 8, 2024
 Dane E. Holmes CC’92, Jonathan D. Bram CC’87, Ai-jen Poo CC’96, Dr. Jennifer Ashton (née Garfein) CC’91, VPS’00, HN’16, and Anthony “Tony” Tutrone CC’86.

The 2024 John Jay Award honorees (left to right): Dane E. Holmes CC’92, Jonathan D. Bram CC’87, Ai-jen Poo CC’96, Dr. Jennifer Ashton (née Garfein) CC’91, VPS’00, HN’16, and Anthony “Tony” Tutrone CC’86.

David Dini SIPA’14

In a show of tremendous support, close to 550 people packed the house at Cipriani 42nd Street on March 6 for the 44th annual John Jay Awards Dinner. The event, which celebrates College alumni for distinguished professional achievement, raised $1.6 million for the John Jay Scholars Program.

This year’s honorees were Dr. Jennifer Ashton (née Garfein) CC’91, VPS’00, HN’16, a physician and chief medical correspondent for ABC News; Jonathan D. Bram CC’87, founding partner, Global Infrastructure Partners; Dane E. Holmes CC’92, chief administrative officer of KKR; Ai-jen Poo CC’96, president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and executive director of Caring Across Generations; and Anthony “Tony” Tutrone CC’86, global head of alternative investments, Neuberger Berman.

“Each [of our awardees] is an exemplar of what we hope our students take away from their experience at the College,” Dean Josef Sorett said. “The ability not just to excel in their professional endeavors, but to do so — regardless of their field or industry — recognizing that individual ambitions are best served when complemented both by a measure of humility and a sense of service to the whole.”

Indeed, the night’s leading Lions delivered acceptance speeches with warmth, grace and humor (and in some cases, with the backing of a veritable cheering section). They reflected on their experiences at the College, took measure of the current moment and projected their hopes for the future.

Ashton spoke of the inspiration she takes from Columbia’s history and alumni. “In your light, we see the light,” she said, quoting the University’s motto. “I definitely had my eyes opened to life and the world during my time at Columbia College.”

“My world got big, real big,” Holmes said of arriving in Morningside Heights. “I learned how little I knew. I learned that no matter how hard I tried, I would never know enough. I learned that there was something to learn from everyone, particularly the people who were different than you, and the people who think differently than you.”

“The greatest gift that I took away [was] to love learning and being around wonderful people from whom I could learn,” Bram said. “Since the day of my graduation, I have tried to surround myself with only people like that — and happily, we have achieved things that none of us could have accomplished alone.”

Guests came in from dreary weather to the smooth sounds of a jazz trio, shaking off raindrops and trading umbrellas for the chance to catch up over cocktails and light bites. During the dinner, other speakers were University President Minouche Shafik; Claire C. Shipman CC’86, SIPA’94, co-chair of the Board of Trustees; Sherri Pancer Wolf CC’90, president of the Columbia College Alumni Association; Victor H. Mendelson CC’89, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees; and John Jay Scholar Manqoba Ngcobo CC’24. The John Jay Scholars Program, which supports select first-years, provides financial aid and special programming to enhance the academic and extracurricular experience.

Ngcobo described the impact of being part of a program “that empowers us to explore our interests, think independently, learn from the creativity of others and act not for ourselves.” He pledged to pay it forward, adding that a John Jay Scholarship is “not only an investment in our holistic and diversified education, it is a belief in the change that young, inquisitive and informed minds can make in the world of tomorrow.”

Tutrone also underscored the importance of programs like the John Jay, calling back to when he was a high school senior in Phoenix. He aspired to be the first in his family to go to college, he said, but was concerned they could not afford it because their income was below the poverty line.

“If any of you ever wonder what it’s like to win the lottery, I can tell you,” Tutrone said. “Columbia extended a lifeline to my family in the form of financial aid that covered all my tuition, room and board not covered by federal grants.” He thanked the attendees, adding, “It is because of people like you that I am up here tonight. It is because people like you changed the trajectory of my entire family.”

Poo connected recollections of her College activism to a call for action in today’s fraught landscape. She described how she and other Columbia students formed a multiracial coalition whose efforts, through protests and a 14-day hunger strike, led to the creation of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. That experience, Poo said, “helped me understand that each of us has the ability to impact the institutions and the systems that shape our lives and therefore the lives of future generations, through taking action together.”

She continued: “At a time when we face book bans, attacks on diversity and equity, and assaults on our democracy itself, this lesson … is more profound today than ever. In the end, it will be acts of courage that we take together that will shape our future and that of future generations.”

Sorett shared a similar sentiment: “This occasion is about forging connections between those who have gone before and those who will follow, to inspire our shared work creating something new, in dialogue together, that may — no, that will — change the world.”

2024 John Jay Award Speeches

Revisit all five awardee acceptance speeches in the playlist below:

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