Sending off the Class of 2020

There are certain experiences I have had as a Columbia College alumnus that have left a mark on me. I have attended and also hosted many events through the years, from pre-reunion socials for classmates to faculty lectures, and when traveling for work, I’ve met alumni leaders in other countries. But my wife, Sherri Wolf ’90, and I were particularly excited about an event we hosted in our home this past July — the Boston-area Summer Sendoff.

Students of the Class of 2020


Through the years, I have interviewed many students applying to Columbia — a wonderful way to stay in touch with the school and my local community while supporting the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The sheer volume of applications to the College and Engineering is staggering, more than 36,000 in the last admissions cycle. We fall well behind all our Ivy peers when it comes to the percentage of applicants that receive an interview (less than 35 percent). I encourage more of you to help us this winter when the admissions cycle starts up again. Providing insight about an applicant’s character and fit is incredibly useful to Admissions, though it can feel discouraging when so few are admitted. Nevertheless, when students are admitted, those who had an alumni interview choose Columbia over other schools at a much higher rate, another positive outcome of this program. Summer Sendoffs are an opportunity to connect alumni to students who eventually do choose Columbia and are preparing to head to Morningside Heights. More than 20 Sendoffs took place this past summer across the country, bringing together the members of the Class of 2020, their parents and local alumni. These events offer a chance for all of us to provide the gift of insight and experience that will inspire student excitement and perhaps allay parents’ fears of sending their children to New York City.

Our Summer Sendoff was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and our first student, Nicky, arrived by 7:05 p.m. Within 10 minutes we had a house full of guests, a line to fill out nametags and a large crowd mingling in the kitchen. We were in full swing by 7:30 p.m., with students mingling with alumni, parents meeting other parents and much excitement in the air. We welcomed students and their families from Massachusetts to Maine, some having driven hours to be part of the Summer Sendoff. In the end, we hosted 20 incoming students, 40 parents (including some who came even without their incoming students!), more than 10 alumni and Susan Jordan from Columbia Family Programs, who happened to be in Boston and spoke about Columbia College services for families available throughout the year. And, in a stroke of luck, Sherri wore a Columbia T-shirt to the dentist’s office that morning, which led to the dentist’s son, Daniel Nissenbaum SEAS’19, joining us at the last minute. Columbia connections were made quickly as conversations filled the air, and it took more than 10 minutes to gather the future Lions and others into the living room to start the brief program. Sherri kicked it off with welcoming remarks, including some of her experiences at Columbia, her involvement with Columbia College Women and upcoming Columbia events both in NYC and Boston. I spoke briefly and then we went around the room introducing various alumni, who spoke glowingly of their varied experiences on campus.

We had such a wide range of alumni from different years, majors and experiences that it captured so well the diversity of which Columbia is justifiably proud. My fellow club softball player Jeff Frieden ’79, GSAS’84 led off with a home run: He spoke about how the Core Curriculum and the overall College experience have been building blocks for him. Now a Harvard professor of government, he comes from a long line of Columbians, including a nephew, Michael Chang-Frieden ’16. We also heard from Leonard Robinson SEAS’13, who told anecdotes about campus life and about staying involved through the Columbia Club in Boston. Ashley Shaw ’13 spoke highly of her Columbia days, including how several of her best Columbia friends were from her own Summer Sendoff. Erik Nook ’12 and Sergio Villar ’13 gave incoming students and parents a sense of the opportunities afforded to them by attending Columbia.

The students were as diverse as the alumni. Their interests ranged from the classics to science and art, and they participated in many extracurricular activities. One thing they shared was their excitement to begin their Columbia days. Guests mingled for 90 minutes after the formal program, long past the event’s scheduled end time.

Those students have now arrived on College Walk and gone through Orientation and Convocation. I am hopeful that the connections made in Boston will carry through and support them in this period of transition and change. And in a month or two, it will be time to meet and interview another set of applicants to the College. I hope you’ll join me by volunteering to meet one or two as well, even if it just provides a chance for you to tell your College story to a bright-eyed and attentive young person who may also one day call himself or herself a Columbian.