As we continue to celebrate the Core Curriculum’s Centennial this academic year, I’m enjoying hearing Core Stories from fellow alumni. It never ceases to amaze me how the Core not only was a defining moment of our undergraduate education, but also remains relevant in the lives of so many of us.
My most memorable Core experience was studying the Bible. That might seem like a surprising choice in the context of my 12 years of Catholic school education, including time as an altar boy. I read the Bible every day in class and of course on Sundays, from the judgment of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the final judgment of mankind in the Book of Revelation. It was a text I felt I knew well when I began Lit Hum.
When it came time to talk about the assigned readings in class, I was confident I had it well covered. I was sure I would stand out, dazzling my professor and classmates with my deep knowledge and insight.
Yet there we were — a group of 20 or so students: Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, all approaching this with different perspectives, beliefs and backgrounds. A sacred text to some. A collection of stories to others. A source of inspiration and comfort. A source of division and discord.
Suddenly, the Bible was entirely new to me.
We discussed. We debated. We argued. Yet, the conversations were respectful, the tone polite. It didn’t matter that we didn’t agree on ideas; we did agree on engaging in a civil discourse.
That’s when one of the most essential aspects of the Core resonated with me. It presents a grand opportunity to take a text, a philosophy or a belief that is so intimate to oneself and to see it through the eyes of another. And in so doing, see it again for the first time.
Columbia College gave me a great gift in the form of the Core, and it’s a gift that I’ve treasured throughout my life. Its values are ones I talk about often with our children, as my wife and I try to teach them that no one has a monopoly on ideas or truth, and that what we think we know might not always be right.
Regrettably, public discourse today seems dominated by partisan rancor. We seem to be very good at speaking forcefully, but we are less good at listening. The reports from many other campuses are not much better; we hear of student bodies that shut down free debate rather than embrace a vivid exchange of ideas.
The Core seems to be needed now more than ever.
Our Core Curriculum is wonderfully unique in higher education. No other college has the same commitment to having the entire student body study the same enduring texts, music and art, in a small seminar setting that is guaranteed for every student.
I am delighted that the College continues to distinguish itself this way, and that its education sets students up for a lifetime of meaningful engagement with the world. That’s why it’s so important that we ensure that the Core is not only available for future generations, but also that it continues to adapt and thrive in the years to come.
Producing the Core requires an exceptional commitment of resources, and its scale grows each year. This type of experience is only possible through alumni support, and the College needs our continued investment to strengthen the Core for future students. Please join me in making a gift in April to the “1919 Challenge” (college.columbia.edu/alumni/columbia-college-fund) in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Core. If 1,919 donors make a gift in April, an anonymous donor will make a $100,000 gift to the Columbia College Fund.
You can also participate in the College’s day-long Core Centennial Century Celebration on campus on Saturday, April 4. [Editor’s note: This event has been postponed.] And make sure to join the #corestories memory project by sharing your Core experience on core100.columbia.edu/community; more than 400 stories have already been contributed!
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