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Class Day Speakers Implore Class of 2017 To Take Action

Sheena Wright at the podium for 2017 Class Day

Class of 2017 Class Day speaker Sheena Wright CC’90, LAW’94 drew cheers from the 1,172 members of the graduating class, as well as from their family and friends, and alumni, with her advice on how to navigate what lies ahead. (More on Wright in Columbia College Today)

“The first thing you should expect is that the world will change dramatically and unexpectedly,” Wright said from the podium on May 16. “I think you — Class of 2017 — probably know that more than most … The question will be: As Columbia graduates, will you be drivers of that change or will you merely be impacted by it?”


Born and raised in the South Bronx, Wright arrived at the College at 16 and became a leader in athletics and Greek life, headed the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Black Students organization and co-founded the Pan-African House. She is now president and CEO of United Way of New York City, a nonprofit that’s part of the United Way Worldwide network and is committed to helping low-income New Yorkers. She is the first woman to lead the organization in its nearly 80 years.

“Almost half of my board are Columbia College graduates, and many of them I would have never even talked to during my days on campus,” Wright said in her call for being open-minded. She compelled the graduates to be curious and, “most importantly, know your power and use it well. You will walk into situations where you are the most junior person in the room, but your lack of experience does not denote a lack of power.”

Citing statistics on poverty, climate change, income inequality and more, Wright said, “There are unbelievable challenges facing our city and world. We need you, Columbia graduates, to not only think of your personal success but to take on the responsibility of solving the problems that are waiting for us … You have a duty to drive change in the world with commitment and passion.”


In a signoff that resonated with fans of the smash-hit musical Hamilton, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton CC 1778 (“who lived in Harlem, by the way!”), Wright concluded her remarks with lyrics recounting President George Washington’s counsel to a young Hamilton: “Let me tell you what I wish I had known, when I was young and dreamed of glory … remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.” She cheered, “Make us proud!” and the crowd cheered right back. (More on Columbia College Class Day in Spectator)

Kai-Fu Lee CC'83 at Engineering Class Day

Spectator, Ben Goldmith

At Columbia Engineering Class Day on May 15, venture capitalist and founding president of Google China Kai-Fu Lee CC’83 focused his speech on artificial intelligence, whose influence he predicted will be “on the scale of the Industrial Revolution.” On a hopeful note, he said, “Despite what we’ve seen in some science fiction movies, no AI program — today or that we will see in our lifetime — will love” and that’s “what makes us human.” (Read more on Columbia Engineering Class Day in Spectator)

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