Celebrating what Dean Michele Moody-Adams called “an extraordinary rite of passage,” members of the Class of 2011 began the transition from students to alumni at Class Day on May 17, a day that was marked by morning rains and blustery winds but calmer weather by the time Sans Souci and Roar, Lion, Roarwere sung by the Clefhangers to conclude the ceremony.
Their transition continued the next day under overcast skies when the College seniors took their place among more than 12,000 graduates of the University’s schools and affiliates at Commencement, the official graduation ceremony that drew a crowd of more than 30,000 to Low Plaze.
Alexandra Wallace Creed ’88, senior v.p. of NBC News, delivered a Class Day keynote speech marked by levity and brevity, to the delight of the graduates, families and guests who gathered under tents on South Field. She joked that when the seniors heard their speaker was from NBC News, they might have expected Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry or Tom Brokaw, not “Alex Wallace — who is he?” She urged the graduates to “follow your passion. Work can be an avocation as well as a vocation … It is more satisfying to find a place where you fit than to contort yourself to fit somewhere you don’t. Is there something you love doing, besides sleeping, that could become a career? You will work a lot in your life. You should love what you do.”
Dean Moody-Adams spoke of the remarkable space on which Class Day and Commencement were held, “one of the most glorious public spaces in the world,” and told the graduating seniors that whatever they went on to do in life, she hoped they always would “protect social and political spaces in which robust but reasoned debate is possible.” She went on to say, “You have had the opportunity to test out your ideas and your arguments in one of the most diverse settings in human history,” noting that members of the Class of 2011 represented 50 states and 70 countries.
While such diversity can be challenging, Dean Moody-Adams said, “You are Columbians. You are not afraid of challenge, and you are not afraid to respond to challenge in a context where not everybody thinks exactly the way you do. Winston Churchill once wrote that courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, but courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. When you leave Columbia to start your life as a college graduate, be sure to have the courage of your convictions, but be courageous enough to also sit down and listen to people who don’t think like you. When you do, you will demonstrate the power of your Columbia College education and you will affirm the value of an experience that consistently connected you to something larger than yourself.”
President Lee C. Bollinger kept his remarks brief, noting that he would have “a captive audience” at Commencement. “This is really your century,” he told the students. “It’s an incredible time for you to be graduating from this institution, with this education, and to be going out into the world. We will watch you with pride and interest.”
Scott Maxfield ’11, chair of the Senior Fund, announced that a record 95 percent of graduating seniors had donated $21,349, and that surpassing the participation goal of 93 percent had triggered a pledge of $50,000 to the Columbia College Fund from Charles Santoro ’82. Maxfield, accompanied by the 11 vice chairs of the Senior Fund, presented Dean Moody-Adams with a scroll bearing the names of the 951 seniors who contributed.
Also speaking at Class Day were salutatorian Elizabeth Lucia Lyon ’11 and class president Sean Manning Udell ’11, who drew a roar when he said, “Allow me to quote Legally Blonde for just one minute: ‘We made it!’ ”
Presenting student life and service awards and academic awards were Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger and Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn B. Yatrakis. Brian Krisberg ’81, ’84L, chair of the Columbia College Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates as the newest members of the association and urged them to be active alumni before presenting three alumni awards and prizes.
For the eighth year, the procession included the Alumni Parade of Classes, with more than 100 alumni from as far back as 1936 marching with their class banners to welcome seniors into the alumni community.
-Alex Sachare ’71